Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Therefore hear the parable of the sower

 
 "Therefore hear the parable of the sower:  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.  This is he who received seed by the wayside.  But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while.  For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.  Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.  But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces:  some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."
 
- Matthew 13:18-23 
 
Yesterday we read that Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.  And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.  Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying:  "Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.  Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.  But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop:  some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"  He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.  For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:  'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull.  Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.'But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear . . . " 

 "Therefore hear the parable of the sower:  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.  This is he who received seed by the wayside.  But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while.  For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.  Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulnes of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.  But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces:  some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."  In today's reading, Jesus gives the explanation (to His disciples) of the parable of the Sower (see yesterday's reading, above).  We should keep in mind that this explanation comes in the context of the question of why He has begun to teach in parables, and that by now there are great multitudes who come to see and hear Him.  He's renowned because of the healings He has done, but He is looking for faith, for the ones who receive seed on the good ground, who hear the word and understand it, who bear fruit and produce.

What does it mean to bear fruit, to bear spiritual fruit?  Clearly, Jesus implies here that to bear fruit, on His terms, is to produce a kind of harvest from His word, from His teachings.  If they fall on good ground, we "take it to heart," and it bears fruit in us:  changes in attitude and behavior, new thoughts that are produced through Christ's teachings about the Kingdom, new ways to see things, and a transformation in our sense of ourselves that can result.  This is an ongoing process, and happens similarly to the way that things grow in the world, especially like the plants which so often form metaphor in Christ's parables:  the growth can be mysterious, unseen, not necessarily closely observed, much of it taking place underground, so to speak.  But nevertheless fruitfulness does result, changes in us, new ways of thinking about what we work for, what it's worth putting our effort into, what makes for good results in our lives, things we can take heart in and that have real value for us and make our lives of genuine value and worthiness.  In his first example of the seed that falls by the wayside, Jesus says that this is the one who does not understand, and that then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.  What is the wicked one?  Who is the wicked one?  This is a word often used interchangeably and translated as "the devil."  But if we look closely at this word, its various senses are quite important to understand.  It is πονηρός/poneros.  This word is derived from the word that means "pain."  It has several senses, but it's important to understand that it can indicate laborious trouble; that is, great effort that is fruitless, toil -- something that suggests even slave labor.  It emphasizes that evil is characterized by that which is painfully futile, onerous, a kind of torture of agony and misery.  We can see its connection to the rest of the parable by its stark contrast with those who are fruitful.  From this evil results only fruitless toil, misdirected energy that leads to misery, a kind of enslavement connected to painful futility.  All of these things are characteristic of evil in the Scriptures.  We can take a look at the effects on those who are possessed by demons whom Jesus heals:  the effects of the demons echo these meanings of this word for "evil" or the "evil one," such as pain, a wasted life, one separated from community, suffering.   So what we can understand from His explanation is that Jesus is connecting a lack of understanding with such onerous toil and futility, a painful condition of emptiness.  And He offers His word and our taking it to heart and allowing its effects to blossom within us as the alternative way of life to this futility and pain.  We think of His word because it leads to a better way of life, to one in which we find that what we do has value and substance to it.  Through Christ we seek that which is truly rewarding, which offers us good, what St. Paul calls "the good struggle" or the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12).  That word for "fight" used by St. Paul is ἀγῶνα/agonaWe can see its relation to the English word  that comes to us as "agony," but its meaning is struggle, as in an athletic contest for a prize, as in an Olympic arena, something that is worth the struggle and the effort and the discipline for the honor and glory that comes with its achievement.  Hence it is a "good fight."  Notice that in the rest of the explanation of this parable, Jesus uses words that imply a kind of struggle or effort:  when His good word takes root in us, it helps us to endure, even through tribulation and persecution.  To keep His word in a good way also means that we, with perhaps the focus we can attribute to a good athlete, are not defeated by the distraction of the cares of this world nor by the deceitfulness of riches which can choke the word in us and crash our efforts and discipline for what is of real value and a worthy struggle and goal.  Note that there is a quality implied by the "cares of this world" that is also toilsome and onerous, a quality that Jesus imputes to riches which is deceitful, false, entrapping, which does not live up to its attractive appearance.  These are all characteristics of what is evil, what tricks us with false promises that in the end harm us instead; they are even characteristic of addictions such as the lure of gambling, the promise of escape from pain with drugs, and all the things the world seems to clamor for us to scramble after to keep up with everyone else in all those images we consume.  Those narcissistic personalities who defraud others also share similar traits of false lures of a good life, but are instead merely predators who rob others not only of worldly goods, but even of purpose, often supplanting themselves as the purpose of another's life.  But to hold fast to Christ's word is a different sort of a struggle, a good fight for something that feels worthy in a place that is within us, where God touches us, a sense of what is good and at the same time truly free, because it helps us to discover ourselves and who we truly are, what we're made out of.  Most of all Christ's word is born of love for us, and it tells us the truth about ourselves and about life.   Note that Jesus doesn't make us false promises that there is no struggle, or that His life is simple and without effort.  But He does offer us fruitfulness, the kinds of spiritual fruit from which a good life is made, and good life for those around us as well.  His word offers us the values of compassion, the richness of true beauty, the worthiness of sacrifice for what is better -- an organizing principle of love for what is true and good and beautiful, a struggle for that which is truly worthy.


Monday, May 23, 2022

Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand

 
 On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.  And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.  Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying:  "Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.  Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.  But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop:  some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"  He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.  For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.'
"But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear . . . "
 
- Matthew 13:1-16 
 
We have been recently reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 -7).  On Saturday, we read that Jesus taught:  "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the  way that leads into destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, there are few who find it.  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?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.  Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."   

 On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.  And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.  Today the lectionary skips forward in Matthew's Gospel, from chapter 7 to chapter 13, in which Jesus will begin teaching in parables.  We note that by now there are great multitudes who are coming to see Him; this has a great deal to do with why He begins to speak in parables.  

Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying:  "Behold, a sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.  Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.  But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.  But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop:  some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"   This is Jesus' first parable that works as a kind of foundation for the rest of them.  My study Bible explains that in the Old Testament, metaphors of sowing and harvesting are common (Psalm 126:5, Jeremiah 31:27-30; Hosea 2:21-23; Joel 3:12-14), as this was a part of daily life.  In this parable, Jesus reveals Himself as the promised Messiah, the sower in the earth, who had been prophesied in Isaiah 55:10-13.

And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"  He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given."  Here Jesus begins to reveal to the disciples the purpose of speaking in parables.  My study Bible explains that the mysteries of the kingdom are not merely obscure concepts or some religious truths which are only for the elite, nor is the understanding of the parables just an intellectual process.  Even the disciples find this message hard to understand.  While Jesus taught the same message to all, my study Bible says that it is the simple and innocent who are open to its message.  

For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:  'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, snd seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.'  But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear . . . "  The quotation is from Isaiah 6:10.  This quotation also appears in John 12:37-41, in the context of those many who gathered to Christ for His signs, but had no faith.  Here, as Jesus speaks to such a great multitude that He must sit in a boat off the shore, His parables are also aimed toward those who will hear and develop faith, out of the multitudes who will not.  My study Bible notes that according to St. John Chrysostom, the prophecy of Isaiah quoted here does not mean that God causes spiritual blindness in people who would otherwise have been faithful.  This is a figure of speech which is common to Scripture, revealing God as giving people up to their own devices (as in Romans 1:24, 26).    What is meant by He has blinded, my study Bible explains, is that God has permitted people's self-chosen blindness (compare Exodus 8:15, 32 with Exodus 10:20, 27).  People did not become blind because God spoke through Isaiah; it is Isaiah who gave his prophesy because he foresaw their blindness. 

As we have been reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7; beginning with this reading from May 9), Jesus has been speaking to His disciples.  That is, He has been addressing His sermon to those who would be His followers, speaking of the particular type of blessedness that belongs to this Kingdom, to those who have faith in Him, teaching His gospel message.  He has been teaching us what it means to be a disciple, to engage in discipleship, to follow Him.   But in today's reading, we skip to chapter 13, where the parables begin, and the lectionary will be giving us these parables in preparation for Ascension Day (which, generally speaking, for the West is Thursday this week, and for the Eastern Churches  falls on Thursday next week).  In tomorrow's reading, we'll receive Jesus' explanation of this foundational parable which He gives to His disciples.  But for today, let us consider what He teaches them here, in response to their question about why He has chosen to begin to speak in parables.  For us today, it remains an important concern to understand why it is that membership in our churches seems to fluctuate so.  Popular ideas in the West have long followed a trend toward a belief in a very materialist-oriented perspective on life.  A false understanding of science seems to imply that we must only trust in what has been proven to us scientifically, but nevertheless there are those who seem to adopt this attitude.  (All science is based on hypothesis; if scientists only accepted that existence was limited to what had already been proven, there would be no science at all; nor would there be constant new discoveries which, in fact, render mistaken what had been previously understood to have been proven.)   In some sense, this "misdirection" of perception, or failure to grasp the mysteries of which Christ speaks, remains entirely pertinent to what we're being taught in the quotation of the prophesy of Isaiah.  Jesus gives us a hint about the failure to hear and see the things He is offering, the lack of perception of the value in the things He teaches.  Although Israel, and particularly its leadership contemporaneous with Christ, is steeped in preparation for the Messiah, in scholarship on the Old Testament, together with tremendous resources from the Second Temple period which was rich in possibility to accept Christ as divine, there are those who cannot nor will not see and hear what He is offering, with faith.  Jesus has spoken of the hypocrisy which keeps us from faith during His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, for which He will repeatedly indict the religious leadership.  There is the aspect of life lived purely for show, for the praise of other people, which He repeatedly mentions in this context -- and we can surely see at least some of this pattern reflected in a world which now bases so much of its common social exchange on consumed image through social media, or identity which seems to rest solely on how it is reflected back to us through the eyes of others.  It seems common today that there are so many who do not see and do not hear these realities of which Christ speaks, the blessedness of God and mysteries of God's kingdom.  Faith asks us for a perception that comes from a deeper place within ourselves, something subtle, but also essential to identity which is hidden from those without this capacity for perception.  From this perspective, it seems there is something missing from the development which enables us to participate in mystery and to receive what mystery offers us as part of identity and personal growth.  Just as Jesus taught us to rebuke hypocrisy by praying in secret to our Father who is in the secret place and who sees in secret (and to do likewise with practices of almsgiving and fasting), so we must come to understand that a life lived entirely with a consumerist orientation is going to miss out on what is to be grasped from within, in a secret place, even with no one else watching or seeing.  There are things which cannot be apprehended simply by consuming or absorbing what is outside of us or around ourselves.  This is what the parables point to:  images hidden within the story, which feed us something more than the easy fare of spectacle.  That is, things which engage us in a deeper way than the narcissistic drive for competing image or comparing ourselves to others, something other than the tremendous focus only on what appears to us in a material way.  There is a deeper place where life is for us, where we understand that who we are comes in relationship to God and to the righteous way of life to which God calls us in our relations to others, regardless of social demands.  If we think about it, this is part of the reason why the poor (or the poor in spirit) are always dear to God, for their perception is not based solely on what they possess materially.  We start there, in this parable of the Sower, to build an awareness of what this means and what it offers, who the Sower is, and how important it is that we find this way to perceive what is of true value and gives value to all else.  As Jesus teaches, there is a law to this type of awareness, and the kind of abundance He offers:  "For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."   In Jesus' final statement in today's reading, it is as if we are given another Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, and another lesson about what it means to live a blessed life:  "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear . . ."



Saturday, May 21, 2022

Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven

 
 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the  way that leads into destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, there are few who find it.

"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?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
 
- Matthew 7:13-21 
 
We are currently reading through the Sermon on the Mount.  In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught:  "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?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.  Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.  Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." 

 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads into destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, there are few who find it."  This description of the "two ways" was widespread in Judaism (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Proverbs 4:17-18, 12:28, 15:21; Wisdom of Sirach 15:17), and also in early Christian writings (Didache, Barnabas).  My study Bible adds that Luke's version (found at Luke 13:24-30) is more eschatological, as it refers to the end of the age.  It says that because we wrestle against sins and human weaknesses, as well as spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12), entering the Kingdom is the more difficult way. 

"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?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them."  My study Bible comments here that, because they can easily deceive others, those who put on a show of virtue or religion are more dangerous than those who are evil outright.  Therefore, we need to be all the more cautious among those who are outwardly virtuous.  How will we know these false prophets and wolves in sheep's clothing?  By the "fruits" they produce.  John the Baptist made the same statement, that every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire, in Matthew 3:10.

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."   My study Bible notes that Jesus makes a testimony regarding His own deity here:  He calls Himself Lord, which refers to the divine name "Yahweh" of the Old Testment; He speaks of the will of My Father, which He fully knows and shares; and finally, as judge, He reveals Himself as God, for only God can execute true judgment.  

What is judgement?  How can we understand it?  The ultimate judgment, of course, comes from Christ, as is indicated in today's reading, which my study Bible points out to us in these last verses.  In this sense, judgment is a discernment about who may enter the kingdom of heaven.  According to what Christ says in the final verses of today's reading, those who may enter are the ones who do "the will of My Father in heaven."   Here we must note that when Jesus gave us His model prayer earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (see this reading), it was a prayer to "Our Father," and included the pleas, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Therefore, through this prayer, we plea for participation in our Father's will also; we ask that God's kingdom be manifest here, and that God's will be done here.  It is a way in which we may also reinforce the idea that this is what we want to serve in our lives, just as Jesus serves the Father's will as divine Son and as human being.  So, we might ask, what is this divine will?  How does this work that we may participate in God's kingdom here, and that our Father's will can be done on earth as it is in heaven?  Jesus tells us in today's reading that the gate to this kingdom of life is narrow, while the way to destruction is broad and its gate is wide.  This is a specific instruction, making a specific claim of one way to find the life in abundance He wishes to offer, this kingdom of life.  It enforces that our job in the world as disciples is to seek our Father's will and to do it.  This is the basic requirement, so to speak, of a follower of Christ.  This is not an abstract statement about principles.  It is a specific direction that is given, a direction towards participation in a deep relationship, one that permeates all things, both in heaven and on earth, one that comes before all things.  And this is a personal relationship.  That is, our Father in heaven may not be a person who is exactly like our earthly father, or anyone else we know.  But God the Father is, nevertheless, a Person, and One with whom we are not simply capable of having an intimate and personal relationship, but One with whom Christ says we must do so in order to enter the Kingdom of which He preaches.  This intimate and personal relationship is not a mere set of belief statements, of value judgments, of rules, but rather a relationship of the same type we understand as personal in the world with those whom we love:  it is a way of coming to know Someone, of dwelling in a give and take of love with that Person, a way of growth in relationship, something intimate down to our core, because this Person also is present deep within ourselves.  This we know from Christ's teaching regarding St. Peter's confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, which will come in chapter 16:  "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (see Matthew 16:15-17).  What Jesus implies is that God the Father may reveal within us the realities of this Kingdom, from a dwelling space we can't perceive but which nevertheless is within us so deeply that we're unaware of exactly how and from whence this comes.  Jesus also teaches that "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you"  (Luke 17:20-21).  In the Greek, this language can mean both "within you" and "among you" but that makes little difference in terms of the implication of the presence of God and God's kingdom to us.  What is not necessarily seen nor observed is nevertheless here with us, within us and among us and in our midst, and it is this presence to which Jesus directs us, and which plays a role in the judgment about how we enter that kingdom of life.  So when we pray, let us think about an intimate communion that asks us for our attention, that is that "narrow gate" among all the rest of the things that vie for our attention and for our loyalty.  Let us understand that there is more to this Kingdom than simply rules or prerogatives, but that the word of God comes to us in person -- in the person of Jesus Christ, fully human yet fully divine, and as such our invitation to participate is personal.  We are invited in to grow and to learn, so that we may dwell with God.  St. Paul asks the Corinthians, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16).  At the Last Supper, Jesus assures us of this relationship and its basis in love:  "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23).   Like a truly loving relationship between human persons, this relationship transforms us -- but in the process of helping us to find who we truly are, in ways only God can reveal to us.   For today, let us consider what it means to be in a deep and loving relationship, one from which we constantly learn, within which we change and which will transform us, a relatedness that gives life, a blessed home -- a narrow gate through which Jesus Christ invites us to be with our Father.





Friday, May 20, 2022

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets

 
 "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?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.  
 
"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!  Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
 
- Matthew 7:1-12 
 
We are presently reading through the Sermon on the Mount.  In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught:  "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." 
 
"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?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."  My study Bible comments here that we will be judged with our own level of judgment because we are guilty of the things we judge in others (Romans 2:1).  We ourselves also have failed in repentance and in fleeing from sin.  To pass judgment is to assume God's authority.  The second part of this verse is found in Mark 4:24 and in Luke 6:38, each in a different context; no doubt Christ repeated this particular message many times.  It teaches us, also, how basic this concept is to our faith and our lives.  There is yet another important message here, and that is the means whereby we seek to clarify our own perceptions, to cleanse ourselves of false beliefs and values through repentance, and whether or not we have practiced our own spiritual learning and discipline in order to properly help others.  For without the discernment that only comes from one's own experience of repentance and spiritual growth, one fails to perceive clearly or properly.
 
 "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces."  My study Bible explains that while dogs and swine would refer to heathen peoples in the context of the time (Philippians 3:2, Revelation 22:15), they also would include Jews who do not practice virtue.  According to patristic literature, "dogs" are those people who are so immersed in evil that they show no hope of change, while "swine" are those who habitually live immoral and impure lives.  Of course through continual evil behavior, this is possible for any one of us.  The pearls are the inner mysteries of the Christian faith, which includes Christ's teachings (Matthew 13:46) and the great sacraments.  These holy things are restricted from the immoral and unrepentant, my study Bible explains, not to protect the holy things themselves, for Christ needs no protection.  Rather, we protect the faithless people from the condemnation that would result from holding God's mysteries in contempt. 

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!"  My study Bible points out that the verbs ask, seek, and knock are, in the Greek of the Gospel, present progressives.  In other words, Jesus is saying we are to "be asking," "be seeking," and "be knocking."  It asks us to note the synergy:  our effort is commanded, but never apart from the immediate help of God.  We ask in prayer; we seek by learning God's truth; and we knock by doing God's will.  Human beings are called evil here not in order to condemn all of us, but to contrast the imperfect goodness in people (our goodness is also mingled with sin - fallibility and imperfection), with God's perfect goodness (see Matthew 19:16-17).  My study Bible comments that if imperfect and even wicked people can do some good, all the more will God work perfect good.
 
"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."  This is the "Golden Rule" which fulfills the demands of the Law and the Prophets.  It is also the practical application of the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself (Matthew 22:39-40).  My study Bible says it is a first step in spiritual growth.  The negative form of the Golden Rule ("Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you") was well-known in Judaism.  Jesus' form here is positive:  this is the action that begins to draw us toward God (see Luke 6:31).

My study Bible calls the Golden Rule ("Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets") the first step in the road toward God.  That is, when we simply begin to consider treating others as we'd like to be treated, we are making a first start on Christ's road of perfection, of being His disciples.  I daresay there are times when we'll find, in this practice, that there are others who don't like being treated as we'd like to be treated (that is, they don't necessarily want the same things from others that we do), but this becomes part of the learning curve of spiritual discernment and proper boundaries.  It is part of the learning curve of discipleship, even of how to deal with those who don't love or appreciate or treasure the "pearls" that we do.  Nonetheless, that very basic understanding of proper respect for other human beings becomes a first step in the journey of discipleship; it sets out a sense of what we might call boundaries, and lays down a foundation of how we approach Christ and neighbor.  It will teach us also that there are limits to what "doing good" means; what is good to us is not necessarily what others think of as good.  Moreover, it is the first step to discerning those who do not wish to receive the "pearls" which God has given to us.  On another level, it is important to understand that the road to Christ is the long learning curve of love.  What is good for people, what they truly need, may vary from person to person.  Sometimes love asks us to let go; sometimes love is reaching out.  Sometimes love means having to say "no" to what another person wants from us.  All of these things are integral to the spiritual life of discernment, the level of discipleship we have integrated and towards which we wish to move.  Jesus says earlier in today's reading, "First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."  He emphasizes that it is this spiritual experience, this discipleship journey, that makes us qualified to even begin to help another:  not only to recognize the "speck" in another's way of perceiving, but even to understand our own difficulties in perceiving and doing away with the flaws in our ways of seeing, the places where we are blind.  In terms of how we treat others and the Golden Rule, the more blind we are in our own way, the more we seem to project our flaws onto others, and fail to see where we also need change and repentance.  The things we fail to see about ourselves on this road of discipleship become the places where we fail to "change our minds" in repentance, and so to correct our own spiritual sight.  In the midst of all of this, Jesus promises great help:  "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."  We do not do spiritual seeking on our own; the level of change we need is one that is addressed through asking, seeking and knocking.  It is through a life of prayer that God can help us to know our way; this is not a journey that we judge nor undertake ourselves.   It is only God's love -- and the help of Father, Son, and Spirit and the saints and angels with whom we pray -- that can lead us on this journey, teach us, guide us, refine us, and help us to know what we need to cast away.  And this is where real discernment comes in, when we realize our dependency upon God, and that we cannot undertake this journey without the practices of our faith and the loving hand of the Helper (and other helpers) always there, and the communion we find in the great cloud of witnesses, both seen and unseen, by which we are always surrounded.   We are taught to "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."   It's only with God's help that we can seek good judgment, and discernment -- for everything begins with the Golden Rule.



Thursday, May 19, 2022

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you

 
 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
 
- Matthew 6:25-34 
 
We are currently reading through the Sermon on the Mount.  In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught:  "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The lamp of the body is the eye.  If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon." 

 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:  they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"  My study Bible tells us that here Jesus is warning against anxiety, but not against thoughtful planning.  It notes that our physical well-being is directly dependent upon God, and only indirectly on food, drink, and clothing.  Anxiety over earthly things, it says, can be a demonstration of a lack of faith in God's care.

"For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things."  Because the Gentiles served pagan idols, they remained consumed by dependence upon earthly things, my study Bible says.  Those who follow God can be freed from this dependence. 

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."   My study Bible says that the kingdom of God is the central theme of Jesus' teaching.  God's righteousness is the subject of the entire Sermon on the Mount.  These are what we are to seek!  Jesus calls us to be free from anxiety about earthly things, and directs us to look to heaven, taking our security in the faith that God will provide needed earthly blessings.  

As my grandparents were survivors of genocide, it often gives me pause to think about this passage and the notes from my study Bible.  I grew up in a community of genocide survivors, all of whom had horrific stories of watching many family members murdered, of marches without food and water, seeing their entire communities destroyed.  They were simply lucky to have their own skins and to have survived.  It was an act of mass Christian persecution, its 1.5 million victims are now officially martyrs and saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church.  It always gives me pause to think about the readings we're given today.  It's important to add that Christ's teachings here are resoundingly powerful in my own life.  Learning to trust to God for what I need -- and to let go, in those times I have to, of what I thought I needed, but God seems to ask me to live without, has been an integral component of my own spiritual journey in life.  Without those times of letting go, and learning to plant my faith more deeply in Christ, I would not have learned what my faith is, nor learned about myself, nor about the realities of life separate from fantasies and popular ideas.  In short, every word I read here in today's reading I have experienced as true, and I am continuing to go down that path in my life.  As for the extreme hardships such as those my grandparents endured, I cannot comment on what is not my experience.  But it was their faith that kept them together as a community, shaped their identities, blessed them with an understanding of who they were and therefore how to go forward and rebuild their communities in the face of the worst crisis any community can face.  My grandparents (despite the horrific things they experienced when they were young) were cheerful, robust, hard-working, forward-looking people, taking joy in what life offered and especially in the unquestionable love with which they blessed me.  And I believe that this, too, was facilitated by their faith in Christ and the ancient faith which was part and parcel of their cultural inheritance.  Christian faith, above all, is an affirmation of life, for Resurrection is at the heart of it.  As He said, He is "the way, the truth, and the life."  "Mammon" did not have the last word, nor define who they were.  What Christ offers us today is the way to live with that always-present affirmation of life.  That is, in all things, we trust in God, and it is a process of learning to let go not just of excess anxiety -- but also of our own modern sense that so much depends upon what we look like, what house we have, what clothes we wear, and on and on and on.  Our faith, we always need to be reminded, does not consist solely of the things we have, but of what we know about ourselves and our relationship to God in terms of the intangible treasures that don't have a price.  What price is compassion in the midst of a genocide, for example?  My grandmother, along with tens of thousands of others, was an orphan, saved by American missionary doctors who trained her to be a nurse.  My other grandmother and my great grandmother were saved by a Turkish widow of a military officer who hid them in her home; my great grandmother had worked for her. In yesterday's reading, Jesus directed us to store treasures in heaven, and acts of compassion surely create those treasures -- just as we also remember that He said, "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" (see Matthew 10:40-42).  In today's reading, Christ fully teaches us what it means to serve one master or another, and what it means to serve the purely material instead of trusting to faith in God first.  Jesus says, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  How often have those words been true, despite anxieties and worries?  In this, too, He teaches us what is essential and also what we need to let go. In the long run, and even through calamity, it is the intangible values of Christ that sustain a good life, the rock of faith which teaches us how to build our lives and gives us the strength to do so.



Wednesday, May 18, 2022

No one can serve two masters

 
 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"The lamp of the body is the eye.  If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."
 
- Matthew 6:19-24 
 
 We are currently reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7).  In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught:   "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them.  For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.  In this manner, therefore, pray:  "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
 
  "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  My study Bible comments that by attaching themselves to treasures on earth, people cut themselves off from heavenly treasures.  It says that they become slaves to earthly things rather than free in Christ.  If we look at the story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-30), we find Jesus counseling a person who was extremely attached to his possessions to an extent that they interfered with his spiritual life.  My study Bible adds that the heart of disciples lies in first disentangling ourselves from the chains of earthly things, and secondly attaching ourselves to God, who is the true treasure.  However, our possessions may be used in service to God, if we put the kingdom of God's first and seek God's will for us in prayer (Matthew 6:33).

"The lamp of the body is the eye.  If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"  The mind (Greek νοῦς/nous) is the spiritual eye of the soul, my study Bible says.  It illuminates the inner person and governs the will.  To keep one's mind wholesome and pure is fundamental to Christian life.  As Jesus' words express here, the loss one suffers through the failure to do so is very great.

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."  As slaves serving two masters, people attempt to maintain an attachment both to earthly and heavenly things, a note in my study Bible tells us.  But this is impossible because both will demand full allegiance.  Jesus calls mammon ("riches") a master not because wealth is evil by nature, but rather because of the control it has over people. 

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."  If we break down this last statement by Jesus in today's reading, we see that He is asking us to make a choice regarding what it is we'll put our trust in.   According to Strong's Concordance, mammon is derived from an Aramaic word.  While it is used to indicate money, it also has a more general derivation indicating that it means a treasure in which a person trusts, and therefore a valued currency.  If we understand the word this way, what He is doing, then, is contrasting God and worldly wealth in terms of their absolute natures.   Do we serve material wealth?  Is material wealth like God?  Or is God a reality far beyond something confined to material substance here in this world, and therefore worthy of our worship as God?  This is a question of asking us to make a choice regarding what it is we serve.   In yesterday's reading, Jesus gave us what we understand as the Lord's Prayer, or the Our Father, in which we are taught to pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Jesus is asking His disciples to think about the vast difference between that personal God to whom we are to "pray in secret," and who "sees in secret," and who is "in the secret place" (see Monday's reading), and the material things that make up the world.  Do we worship something inanimate, trust in what is always mutable and changeable -- or do we serve God and allow the rest to fall into place behind that service?   Jesus speaks of the lamp of the body, the eye with which we see, indicating the mind and how it perceives and comprehends what it takes in.  We need to clarify and to keep the mind clean and not polluted or toxic so that we can truly perceive what our lives are about, truly understand and make good choices.  As He says, "If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"  If our capacity to discern, to know, to think is clouded over with distractions and falsehoods and the darkness of spiritual ignorance, then imagine how great that "pollution" is, as it is our perception which leads our whole body, our whole lives, our capacity for decision-making.  Everything hinges on it.  So we come to the first verses in today's reading, in which Jesus asks us to consider what our treasure is -- and especially where our treasure is.  This is because everything else He speaks of, including our capacity for thinking and perception, and ultimately where we are going to place our true loyalty and what we're going to serve in life, comes from this basic question about "treasure."  It seems that what Jesus is saying is that what we treasure will define who we are, and give us our deepest identity, our heart.  Therefore He gives us His starkest warnings about how we think, what we dwell upon, what we trust in.  As is so often emphasized in this Bible Commentary, the root of the word for faith (πίστις/pistis) is really "trust" in the Greek of the Gospels; it's all about what we put our trust in, what gives something true value and substance.


 
 
 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Our Father in heaven

 
 "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them.  For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.  In this manner, therefore, pray:
"Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
 
- Matthew 6:7-15 
 
We are presently reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7).   "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them.  Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.  And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. . . . ."Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.  For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." 

 "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them.  For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him."  Jesus' words here are coupled with His teachings against hypocrisy, and how hypocrisy separates us from God and keeps us from the depth of relationship necessary for true prayer, which my study Bible says is an intimate communion with God, which leads to the vision of God's glory (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Vain repetitions also cannot establish such a communion; God does not need our "babble."  To participate in it, both silence and words are necessary.  Therefore, my study Bible says, we pray always (Luke 18:1) and without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Christ does not condemn the use of many words per se, but rather teaches that words need to express the desire for communion with God.  In the following verses, Jesus gives us specific words to repeat.  Therefore, it is not repetition itself that is condemned, but vain repetition.  Many psalms, prayers, and hymns of the Church have been repeated for countless generations in the worship of God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23).  True prayer, as we can see from the prayer Christ gives us, is not telling God what God already knows, and then telling God what to do about it, nor is it appearing to be pious in front of others.  My study Bible sums up Jesus' teachings on prayer by saying that true prayer is humble ("go into your room"), personal ("pray to your Father"), and sincere (do not use vain repetitions).
 
"In this manner, therefore, pray:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  My study Bible comments that the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity reveals our potential relationship with God.  Christ, the Son of God, grants to us the privilege to call God Our Father by the grace of adoption (Galatians 4:4-7).  As a "son of God" (indicating an heir, regardless of gender), a Christian is called to love, trust, and serve God in the same way that Christ does the Father.  My study Bible explains further that we must note that God is not our Father just because God created us.  God is only Father to those who are in a saving and personal relationship with Him, a communion that comes only by the grace of adoption (see John 1:13, Romans 8:14-16).   When we pray that the Father's kingdom come, and God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven," so we are affirming our love, our loyalty, and service to the Father just as Christ loved the Father, for God is love (1 John 4:8).
 
 "Give us this day our daily bread."  Daily is a misleading translation of the Greek word ἐπιούσιον/epiousion, a word which apparently appears nowhere else in literature except here in the Gospel.  This word literally means "above the essence," or "supersubstantial."  The expression daily bread, according to my study Bible, indicates not simply bread for this day, for earthly nourishment.  It is, rather, the bread for the eternal day of the Kingdom of God, for the nourishment of our immortal soul.  This living, supersubstantial bread is Christ Himself.  Therefore in this prayer given by Christ, we are not simply asking for material bread for physical health, but rather for the spiritual bread of eternal life (see John 6:27-58).  

"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."  My study Bible points out that the request to be forgiven is plural, which directs us to pray always for the forgiveness of others.  Debts here refers to spiritual debts (see Matthew 18:21-35).  

"And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen."  My study Bible comments that God tempts no one to sin (James 1:13); temptations are from the evil one, the devil.  Temptations, it says, are aimed at the soul's giving in to the sinful passions of the flesh (Romans 7:5).  It is the nature of temptation to come to us where we are vulnerable, even in ways that might seem to be "good."  No one lives without encountering temptations, but we pray that great temptations, tests beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), should not come to us.  Therefore, whenever we pray the Lord's Prayer, we also pray for deliverance from all aspects of evil.
 
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."   My study Bible comments that Jesus insists on mutual forgiveness between people as a precondition of God's forgiveness.  Those who do not forgive are not forgiven.  This is a teaching which is repeated in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35), which concludes with the same teaching.  My study Bible says that to not forgive others is to willfully flee from the forgiveness of God for ourselves. 

Forgiveness can be a rather tricky concept.  Does it just mean going back to people who abuse us?  Does it mean that our relationships are restored to full reconciliation with those who might harm us?  I think the language Jesus uses about debt is very important here, and a key to what forgiveness is.  Certainly in popular common language "forgiveness of debt" is still used when a financial institution of some sort erases a debt from the books.  So this term "debt," used to indicate some kind of harm or need for restitution, indicates that we expect a kind of payback -- which leads us to conclude it is something reinforced by retribution or vengeance of some sort.  In Jewish law, restitution was key to the establishment of jsutice.  In the Old Testament, this problem of vengeance, of returning violence for violence, is at the heart of the problems of the world -- see Genesis 4, and the story of sin from Cain to Lamech, who promised vengeance "seventy-sevenfold."  St. Paul reminds us of God's teaching that vengeance belongs to God (see Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30, Deuteronomy 32:35).  Therefore, a "debt" that is incurred through another's bad action is something that we forgive by giving it up to God.  In keeping with the financial metaphor, God assumes the debt and responsibility for its repayment, for restitution.  This is a teaching, as St. Paul elaborates, against personal vengeance, and it is rather a part of our prayer in which we assert that we meet evil in our lives by seeking the will of God for ourselves as our way through this world, and for how to respond.  So much in this prayer is concerned with the evil of the world and how to live the will of God, as did Christ -- and forgiveness is stressed so that we emphasize our prayer that the Father's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  In this context, we can understand forgiveness not to be a justification for others' bad actions, and certainly not behavior that would reward or indulge harmful behaviors.  Forgiveness is rather affirming that we leave all things in God's hands, and pray for guidance for how to conduct our lives, despite the evil we encounter.  Just as we pray for deliverance from evil (or the "evil one" as the language also reads in Greek), so here we are praying God's way through evil circumstances, even admittedly bad acts by others.  In this way, forgiveness can begin for each of us through an understanding of Christ's language of "debt," and the understanding that it is God the Father who is the ultimate Judge.  Through releasing the debt to the Judge, we are freed from thoughts of vengeance to consider the best way to live with what may be bad circumstances.  We are not necessarily praying for reconciliation to a bad actor or ongoing abuse and suffering, but instead are set free to consider what healing means and the best way to pursue that.  Therefore, this prayer emphasizes a freedom from the pattern of retribution that leads down a long road of sin, and always goes from bad to worse.   How might we better spend our time?  What might give us a better outcome to our lives, our productivity, the things that are good in our lives?  Let us use the prayer as our guide for life, as our way to seek out our Father, and to find His way for us.