Wednesday, June 19, 2019

For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him


 Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."

Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, you have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.

- Luke 20:27-40

Our current readings in Luke take place in Holy Week.  Jesus is in the temple daily, teaching, but the religious leadership wish to do away with Him.   So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, but that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.

 Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying:  "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.  Now there were seven brothers.  And the first took a wife, and died without children.  And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.  Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died.  Last of all the woman died also.  Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become?  For all seven had her as wife."    The Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, did not believe in resurrection.  They were an aristocratic, landowning group based around Jerusalem and part of the hereditary priesthood whose duties included maintenance of the temple and participation in the Sanhedrin.  Also in contrast to the Pharisees, they rejected the oral tradition and accepted mainly the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.   In some sense, their question seems to mirror their own perspective as a group formed and shaped through heredity.  It shows that they understand the notion of resurrection to be a continuation of earthly life, including marriage -- and thus, my study bible says, they mock the doctrine with this absurd scenario.

Jesus answered and said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.  But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'  For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him."  Then some of the scribes answered and said, "Teacher, you have spoken well."  But after that they dared not question Him anymore.  Jesus responds to the question posed by the Sadducees by expressing the fullness of the understanding of resurrection as a complete change of life, a transfiguration.  He enforces this by asserting to them that they don't really understand the Scriptures.  How can Abraham and his sons be alive in God even if they are physically dead?  Note that some of the scribes affirm Christ's understanding of the Scripture (see Exodus 3:6).  My study bible comments that it is the clear teaching of Christ that the souls of the faithful who have departed this life are sustained before the face of God in anticipation of the final joy of the resurrection. 

It's interesting to think about how much of Christ's involvement in the temple at Jerusalem, and His discussion and dialogue with the leadership, seems to involve this subject of life:  of eternal life, resurrection, life after death.  Jesus brought it up Himself when He warned, in Monday's reading, of the stone that could crush to powder should it fall upon someone.  This was a warning about Judgment, and about the extinguishing of the possibility of eternal life.  Here in today's reading, Jesus is asked a direct question about life after death, which is meant to ridicule the entire concept of resurrection.  But it only serves to show the ignorance of the doctrine in those who pose the question -- and also their lack of understanding of the Scriptures, which the scribes affirm in their comment following Christ's answer.  How can God be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob if God is not the God of the living, and these righteous yet live to God?  If we read the entire chapter of Exodus in which the incident of the Burning Bush appears, the Name of God given to Moses affirms the absolute quality of life -- of living and being itself -- that belongs to God:  I AM WHO I AM.  God is the I AM.   (See verses 14-16 of Exodus 3.)  God is the God of living and life itself, of being.  In this sense, we can begin to understand the connection between faith and resurrection.  For if there is no connection to this God who is, the I AM, then where does our life come from that may surpass and be transfigured beyond this world?  It is the connection of faith that makes "living to God" really possible in the sense which resurrection confers.  The word that Jesus uses for resurrection means both to "arise" (stand up) or "awaken" in Greek.  It these senses, it gives us a flavor of being called to attention, of taking our rightful place.  In Matthew's Gospel, this same word is used when Peter's mother-in-law is healed, and she arises and begins to serve those in the household (Matthew 8:15).  It's also the same word used when John the Baptist replies to those coming to him that God can raise up children to Abraham from the stones (3:8, Matthew 3:8).  It is the word Jesus uses to command the son of the widow of Nain to arise from his open coffin (7:14), and when He tells Jairus' daughter to arise (8:54).   We get a connection to faith in the same sense in which faith makes the healing connection to Christ, as, for example, in the healing of the woman with the blood flow (in the same reading as the healing of Jairus' daughter).  Faith makes a connection, completes a kind of circuit, a spark of the power from the One who is, the I AM.  In it we are healed, restored, called to take our rightful places, transfigured and transformed, brought to our true life.  Resurrection, in this sense, becomes the rightful fulfillment of what is possible for us as creatures of the One who is absolute being.  The great emphasis on life in all of Christ's teaching and preaching (for example, "I am the way, the truth, and the life - John 14:6) becomes finally, in this perspective, the revelation of the nature of God and hence His ministry.  He is here that those who are His followers, those with faith, the sheep whom He calls, may have life and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).  This life is the light which illumines His words and all that we know of Christ's ministry (John 1:4).  It gives us possibilities which are endless.  By contrast, the feeble question of the Sadducees is an image of what is dead:  a focus on waiting for inheritance, heredity, ownership, property, a material perspective alone.  In what is perhaps an ironic connection, the Sadducees as a class would die out after the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.   Let us think of the life Christ emphasizes over and over and over again -- and our own connection and capacity for what He offers.





Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's


 So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, but that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.

- Luke 20:19-26
 
In our current readings in Luke, it is Holy Week, and Jesus daily teaches in the temple.  He has been confronted by the leadership regarding His authority.  Yesterday we read that He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, "What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vine-dressers and give the vineyard to others."  And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:  'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'?  Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."  And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. 

  So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, but that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.  Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:  Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me?  Show Me a denarius.  Whose image and inscription does it have?"  They answered and said, "Caesar's."  And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."  But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people.  And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.  My study bible explains that the question on taxation is a trap, as Jesus implies by His question, "Why do you test Me?"  If He answers "yes" it will turn the Jewish people against Him.  If He answers "no" it will bring a charge of treason by the Romans.  His answer, my study bible says, establishes that a believer can at the same time render the state its due while serving God (Romans 13:1-7).  As the coin bears the image of the emperor, it is properly paid to him.  So also every person bears the image of God and therefore belongs to God.  The conflict between these loyalties arise when that which the state demands in contrary to God.

The question posed to Jesus reflects well the political nature of the expectations of the Messiah.  The people await one who will re-establish David's kingdom, throwing off the rule of the Roman Empire.   This is reflected, for instance, in John's Gospel, after Jesus feeds the multitude in the wilderness, whereupon we're told that Jesus understood they wanted to seize Him and make Him king by force (John 6:15).  When the crowds finally catch up to Him again the following day in Capernaum, He tells them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him" (John 6:26-27; see John 6 here).  The people are concerned with their daily lives.  They want a Messiah who will be the king they desire, who can live up to their political and material expectations.  But Jesus' mission is to teach about the kingdom of heaven that is in the midst of them.  Here in today's reading, the question posed to Jesus, designed not simply to discredit Him, but also to place Him in the sights of the authorities so that He may be done away with, reflects these political aims and aspirations.  Is He going to be a nationalist king, who will fight against the Romans, and drive them out of Israel?  Will He object to paying taxes to them as a matter of the religious law?  Let us remember that these expectations of the Messiah are not expectations of the divine Person of Christ, the Theanthropos ("God-man"), the One who is both human and divine in His Incarnation.  These considerations are stunning to the people, a stumbling block.  In their eyes, God may choose the one who is an anointed king, but Christ is something altogether different, and the Incarnation is the story here in itself.  As Son of Man and Son of God Jesus can say, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."   He can teach us that we each belong to God, while we live in the world.  His is not a question of constant political warfare, of slogans and warring armies, but a question of the soul -- and how truly to live as faithful to God and fully a part of this world.  But His answer gives us even more than that to ponder -- and that is to consider that all abstract or political questions regarding ethical or nationalist interests are not necessarily those things we need to act upon or consider uppermost in our service to God.  Too often we confuse absolute "rules" regarding political or social questions as if they were absolute rules imposed by God.  Do we always vote for this political party or that one because one is pleasing to God and others are not?  Do we treat our acquaintances with such absolute strictures, thinking we may associate with one and not with another because God decrees it forever and as an absolute?  Christ's life does not impose such absolutes upon us.  There is one absolute, and that is our love of God -- because this is the true nature of God, which calls us to worship God.   But within the worship of God and the life we seek to live of the Kingdom which Christ brings into the world, there is a life that asks of us alertness, awareness, a way of living that practices love, that may call on us for change and growth and learning.  This is discipleship.  Christ's way of life is one that calls us to repentance and to healing; it is a way of the heart and the soul.   As such, we render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's.  There might be a time when a tax is an outrage to our religious faith, and another time when it is perfectly just and reasonable, depending upon what is being directly asked of us.  Jesus Himself kept His identity secret and hidden until it was time for the Triumphal Entry, and even then defies the expectations about what the Messiah would be.  His ministry had to unfold in a particular way, through particular times -- as did the discipleship of those who would become the apostles of the Church.  Our love of Christ becomes, in this understanding, not simply a matter of abstract principles applied to political or civic affairs, but a question of heart and soul and spirit and strength -- and growth in understanding His love and how we live it.  Most distinctive of all, Christ's love is one that includes mercy.  When He teaches a story about what it means to be a neighbor, His finest example of being a neighbor is a Samaritan, a member of a hated group of enemies to the Jews.  On His way to His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, welcomed as Messiah, He calls out and stays at the home of the chief tax collector in a place notorious for sinfulness, and restores this man through repentance and his own recompense.  He touches a leper to heal him although it is forbidden to touch the unclean.  He praises a woman for her faith in front of the crowds, when her blood flow makes her unclean -- after she has surreptitiously touched the hem of His garment.  Each of these actions happen in a particular way and a particular time, and always within a sphere of faith.   Christ's work in the world and His continual presence to us together with the Father and the Spirit is one of active love, which cannot be contained in slogans and questions of which "side" we're on.  The absolute here is the Presence of God, our capacity for worship and life in the Kingdom He brings into the world (10:9-11), and for living a life activated by faith -- love of God which teaches us love of neighbor.  Let us consider all the riot of political, civic, personal, ethical, social rules we have -- and put them under the umbrella of the one absolute we have:  love of God which teaches us love of neighbor.  It is through Christ's love -- working in and through the great cloud of witnesses by which we are surrounded -- that we seek to make our proper way in the world, and live His Way which is a long, long learning curve, an entire journey of discipleship.  That is His call to us, the voice of our Shepherd which we always seek through prayer and through His love.





Monday, June 17, 2019

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone


Then He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, "What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vine-dressers and give the vineyard to others."  And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:
'The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone'?
"Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."  And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. 

- Luke 20:9-19

On Saturday we read that it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?"  But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?"  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet."  So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

Then He began to tell the people this parable:  "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time.  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.  But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.  And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out.  Then the owner of the vineyard said, "What shall I do?  I will send my beloved son.  Probably they will respect him when they see him.'  But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.'  So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them?  He will come and destroy those vine-dressers and give the vineyard to others."    My study bible says that in this parable, the man represents God the Father, and the vineyard refers to God's people.  The vinedressers are the leaders of the Jews who are entrusted to care for the people.  Each servant sent by the owner stands for an Old Testament prophet who comes to call people back to God.  The beloved son is, of course, Christ Himself.  When the Son is cast out of the vineyard to be killed, the parable is understood on two levels.  First, that Jesus was killed outside of Jerusalem (the site of Golgotha was outside of the city walls of the time); and second, that Christ was crucified by foreign soldiers, and not by those of His own vineyard.  The others who later receive the vineyard are people from every nation brought into the Church.

And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!"  Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:  'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'?  Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."  And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.  The stone is Christ.  We are reminded of Christ's saying, "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (11:23).    According to St. John Chrysostom, the stone in this saying is Christ, and it illustrates two ways of destruction.  Those who fall on the stone are people who suffer the effects of their own sins while yet in this life.  Those upon whom the stone falls are unrepentant people who become powder in the final judgment.

If we start to think about this scene in the temple, we find ourselves in the middle of a swirl of mixed motivations and all kinds of interpretations of what is being said.  The leadership, we are told, clearly want to lay hands on Him.  But they fear the people, as in Saturday's reading, when they refused to give Christ an answer regarding the authority of the baptism of John the Baptist.  Their real motivation is a protection of their authority in the temple, and here is Christ, who comes with His truth -- not only the truth of what it is He teaches, but also the truth of His Person, His identity as Christ.  There is nothing that the leadership can do about that.  Jesus cannot pretend that He is not here to be who He is, that He is not in the world for a purpose and a reason.  This is the time for the inevitable conflict that exists simply because He is who He is, and they are not.  This is what the parable illustrates.  There is a rightful and authoritative owner of the vineyard, and there is the son and heir.  The servants have been done away with, and the son is plotted against to kill.  Those who want ownership will do whatever they can to retain what they think they have.  This is not a story -- when viewed in this historical context -- about a conflict between those who would vie for a piece of property, like kings or empires struggling over colonies and ownership of goods.  This is a story about hearts and minds and souls, for the vineyard is the vineyard of Israel, God's people.  Jesus will teach, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27).  The Son is the Son; the Shepherd is the Shepherd.  We are either going to accept this truth, or we will rail and fight against it.  This is not really a story of power or ownership.  Those who can see only material power do not understand the love and care of God, nor recognize the voice of Christ the Shepherd.  Because that true authority is not a matter of decree or even of enforcement.  It is really a matter of love.  The one reason the sheep hear the voice of Christ is because they recognize it through love; that voice is the one that loves and cares for the sheep beyond all others who would call.  Jesus says, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).  This is the clue to the recognition of our Shepherd.   There is also another traditional way to view Jesus' saying about the stone, and that is to understand that we are fortunate when we stumble over it.  For we might have all kinds of notions about the "right" way to live our lives.  If we are caught up in the material perspective that says we need excessive control, manipulation, selfishness, and ruthlessness to get what we want and decide what we deserve in life, then we are fortunate if somehow those plans fall through and fail -- and we can realize that we have stumbled.  But to live an entire life without looking twice at, say, excessively cruel or selfish behavior, is to go to one's death without reconciliation in love and the fullness of the soul that Christ offers.  And there we touch upon another question of identity.  The metaphor of being ground to powder is one that illustrates what it is not simply to lose life, but to lose identity -- to become as if one never existed.  This is the illustration of the true nature of the loss of eternal life; it is a picture of oblivion, of being lost forever, of a place in which there is no trace of the self, no memory.  So in the fullness of the aspects of the teachings in today's reading lie many questions about identity.  What is the proper role of the leadership in the temple?  How should they care for the sheep, the vineyard, all the metaphors of God's people?  How must they defer to God in their capacity to accept Christ?  What is the identity of the Son?  For that matter, what was the identity of John the Baptist (the question in yesterday's reading) -- in what role did he serve God?  Who was he, really?  Finally, in relation to that stone that becomes the chief cornerstone, who are we?  What's our role, our identity?  Everything comes down to this, and it begins with the first and greatest commandment, the love of God with all one's heart and soul and mind and strength -- and depending upon how we fulfill this commandment we are capable of loving neighbor as ourselves.  Illustrated in the saying about the stone, Jesus teaches that our orientation to God determines identity, and also the loss of true identity.  These leaders will lose what they have for they fail to honor the One who sends Christ, who comes in humility and love.  And this is the place where we have to start, each day, within ourselves.  Could we recognize this love?  Would we be capable of knowing His authority in this humble person with no position, and yet with the words of life and a kind of internal authority we can't quite put our finger upon?  This is the reality of Christ.  He is here and now for us.  Great monuments, institutions, nations, and even the world's religions all recognize or honor Him on one level or another, with one identity or another.  But can we hear His voice, really?  Are we the sheep who know Him by His love and care?  This is the true root of the trust we place in Him and the authority that is in Him, for He loves us first.



Saturday, June 15, 2019

Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things


 Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?"  But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?"  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet."  So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

- Luke 20:1-8

Yesterday we read that as Jesus drew near Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another; because you did not know the time of your visitation."  Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.

 Now it happened on one of those days, as He taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things?  Or who is he who gave You this authority?"  But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?"  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet."  So they answered that they did not know where it was from.  And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."  The chief priests, scribes, and elders confront Jesus about these things He has been doing.  These things, my study bible says, refers to Christ's Triumphal entry into Jerusalem as Messiah (Thursday's reading), the cleansing of the temple (yesterday's reading, above), and His preaching (verse 1 in today's reading).  My study bible adds that the elders confront Jesus as it was the duty of the priestly descendants of Levi to manage the temple.  Christ was descended from Judah (3:33), but He is the High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4), a priestly line which is far greater than that of Levi, as His authority is from God the Father.   We note Jesus' style of argument:  if they don't bother to seek and give a true answer, why should He tell them the answer to their question?

I once heard of a very aged and extremely wealthy (self-made) man whose competence was being challenged in a courtroom.  An attorney for the party who wanted control of elderly man's wealth asked him if he knew what day it was.  He replied, "If you don't know what day it is, why should I tell you?"  Needless to say, there was nothing wrong with his mental abilities.  Jesus' answer gives us a sense in which we are given to understand that those asking the question aren't doing so with an honest intent.  They wish to trap Jesus.  They have their own agenda, and it has to do with the desire to strip Jesus of any sort of authority whatsoever, and restore their own singular authority.  The only reason they cannot do so is because they fear the public.  Consequently, their response to Christ's question has only to do with their fear of the public, their own need to protect their authority, and not an honest search for an honest answer.   Jesus responds in the same way.  If they consider their non-answer good enough to give to Him, so neither will He trouble to tell them the answer to the question they pose to Him.  We might find this a bit petulant.  After all, they are the ones charged with the hereditary duties of managing the temple.  But, looking a bit more closely, we have to come to understand the seriousness of the question, and their complete lack of respect for the true authority they claim to represent.  If it is, after all, God working through John the Baptist, is this not the most sobering question the leaders can be asked?  Does it not require of them something more than an answer made in fear of how the public will respond?  And there, I think, we get to the heart of today's reading.  These men are not assuming the true authority with which they've been given.  They act only out of concern for the face they present to the public, in order to hold onto their positions.  They act consistently with what today we'd deem a public relations perspective, and the nature of the authority of God is somewhere far away from their real considerations.  It is that absence of the grave nature of the question here that deems Christ's answer the only fitting one for those who quiz Him.  It is they who are not taking their own responsibilities for authority in the temple with the true seriousness it requires.  Just like the life and autonomy of the man whose immense fortune was subject to legal manipulation by someone he once trusted, the powerful nature of the true subject at stake here is being overlooked and treated with contempt.  Indeed, the authority of God, the work of the Holy Spirit in the world, is the most serious subject we can undertake.  The reality of the presence and authority of God is not subject to manipulation, like a commodity one wants to cheat out of another, or a kind of treasure one hides and controls.  The truth of the authority and presence of God is as precious as one's life, as important as the true nature of the soul and its need for what God reaches out to give.  Jesus teaches us that those who do not have this deep concern at heart cannot be true shepherds.  Those who wish to take away the compelling presence of the authority of God and diminish it cannot be those who love the flock.  There is one thing required first, and that is the love of God with all one's heart and soul and mind and strength, and this must be particularly true of those who bear authority in the faith, and who are charged with overseeing the spiritual welfare of the people.  How do we know our Shepherd is true?  With whom do we place our trust?   In Matthew's Gospel, amidst accusations about the hypocrisy of the leadership, Jesus tells His disciples, "But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.  Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.  And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.  But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  What this leadership lacks is the sufficient humility to treat the subject of their questions -- God's authority -- with the deference it requires.   Their motivation is not a deep reverence for God, but a desire to protect their places among human beings.  In the first Epistle of St. John the Evangelist, he warns Christ's followers, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,  and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world" (1 John 4:1-3).  Christ teaches us not to be slaves, but intelligent sheep.  We are given the Gospels and His word.  Let us take at least as seriously the question of holy authority as He does, and put the love of God first before everything else.



Friday, June 14, 2019

But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him


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

Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.

- Luke 19:41-48

Yesterday we read that, after giving to His followers the parable of the Minas, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you loosing it?' thus you shall say to him, 'Because the Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, "Why are you loosing the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of him."  Then they brought him to Jesus.  And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.  Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:  "'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!'  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."  Bu He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out." 

 Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another; because you did not know the time of your visitation."  My study bible points out to us that Jerusalem means "foundation of peace."  It notes that only faith in Christ brings true peace.  In Him are all things reconciled at all depths.  This truth, however, is hidden from a city that will soon reject this Savior.  The destruction of Jerusalem prophesied by Jesus took place in AD 70.   But Christ's description can also be a spiritual one, describing the fate of the soul which suffers from a lack of faith, and rejection of spiritual truth.

Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house is a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.' "  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.  Luke does not dwell much on the cleansing of the temple.  Those who bought and sold in it are the ones who trade in live animals to be used for sacrifices.  Once again, there is a spiritual parallel to the individual soul and what it cherishes in its aims and goals and loves.  As Jesus made clear elsewhere, we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24)  We must choose what we put first, what we worship -- and the alternatives here image the soul that is either a house of prayer or a den of thieves.  Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.

The last lines of today's reading tell us that Jesus was teaching daily in the temple, that the religious leaders want to destroy Him, but cannot -- for all the people were very attentive to hear Him.  This phrase, very attentive, is a rather mild translation into modern English.  The words in Greek indicate more that they were hanging onto Christ's every word, captivated, spellbound, suspended in rapt attention.  This is a picture of a people who usually can't get what He's offering, a people who hunger and thirst for every single word.  It reminds us of Jesus' words to the people on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, as reported by John: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37).  These words are possibly inspired by the promise of Isaiah, "Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters" (Isaiah 55:1), but they are a clear invitation, in Christ's words, to the feast of the Holy Spirit which He will give (see John 7:37-39).  Those who are in the temple for the Passover Feast, Jews from everywhere in Israel and those from throughout the Diaspora, including proselytes from other nations, hunger and thirst for Christ's words.  His words are the living words of spirit (John 6:63), and they are the words of eternal life (John  6:68).   His are the liberating words of salvation, and as the people sense in their deep passion to hear Him, they are words for each human being, for everyone, to which all are invited.  The words of Christ are not to be shut up and put away, couched only behind a curtain for the privileged few.  They are meant for each one of us, and the Gospel teaches us that the people all respond in their eagerness to hear -- for each one is a creature of God, and thereby the God-man has come into the world for each of us, all of us, for the life of the world (John 6:51).  This is the liberating, freeing truth of the God who loves us so much that He came into this world and will die on the Cross for us.  He will go even into hell for His word to reach us before His Ascension.  This is the power of His word:  it is not a commodity to be stored up and hidden away, to be kept as a treasure locked up somewhere without its light shining for us.  The early fourth century Fathers of the Church were among the most gifted and brilliant scholars the world has known, but their understanding of His word is for all of us, for each of us -- and here in Luke's Gospel, Christ Himself rejoiced that things that were hidden from the wise and prudent were revealed to babes (10:21).  Turning to His disciples on that occasion, He told them, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it" (see 10:21-24).  This is the liberating reality of the words of salvation.  His house is not a den of thieves, who store away and steal treasure in the sense of purely material good without the benefit of spirit, but it is a house of prayer -- a treasure that reaches to all and is for all, that has no limits in its applications and its capacity to be shared and expanded, and to go anywhere and everywhere.  What He offers can heal the hurts of the past and set us on a course for the future; it simply has no barriers to it because He made sure there are no barriers to where His salvation would go.  Even death cannot form a boundary on these potentials -- as even His death on the Cross will not stop His word but merely serve to expand it and to break down the barrier of death for everyone.  This is the impulse we see in the people who hunger and thirst for and hang onto each of His words.  Don't let the power and message of the Gospel be taken away from you, for He is here for you, He suffered and died for you and for each one of us.  Peace is in our grasp if we but seize and use it and find it for ourselves, for it is in Him.   But can we follow Him where He will lead us?  We are reminded again that His word is for deliverance, salvation, true freedom; He does not compel us as slaves but calls us as friend.  Don't let anything or anyone keep you from this beautiful gift He offers.







Thursday, June 13, 2019

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


 When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you loosing it?' thus you shall say to him, 'Because the Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, "Why are you loosing the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of him."  Then they brought him to Jesus.  And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.  Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:
"'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!'
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."  Bu He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out." 

- Luke 19:28-40

Yesterday we read that Jesus taught another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said:  "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.'  But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'   And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  Then another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.  And he said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'  And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'  (But they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas.')  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.'"

 When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.  And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat.  Loose it and bring it here.  And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you loosing it?' thus you shall say to him, 'Because the Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went their way and found it just as He had said to them.  But as they were loosing the colt, the owners of it said to them, "Why are you loosing the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of him."  Then they brought him to Jesus.   The events of today's reading are called Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and it is significant to us and to all who witness as the entrance of the Messiah into His city.  He enters from the East, as was prophesied of the Messiah.  My study bible emphasizes the nationalist expectations of the time.  Israel had suffered for centuries as a pawn between powerful kingdoms at this time, amid the constant battle for power and control between empires.  At this time, under the Roman Empire, nationalism had led to the expectation of a political Messiah, who would deliver them from outside domination and re-establish the kingdom of David.  But Jesus gives a strong, conscious signal that His kingdom is something different -- not an earthly kingdom.  He chooses to ride on a donkey -- and the colt of a donkey -- rather than horse or chariot as would a conquering king with his military.  This is a sign of humility and peace (Zechariah 9:9), just as He has taught His apostles to go out to the world on their earlier missions.   Jesus' Triumphal Entry is also a promise of Christ's final entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem, with all believers and of His accepting the New Jerusalem as His pure bride (Revelation 21:2), an image present to us spiritually and yet continually moving toward fulfillment among us.

 And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him.  And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road.  The people who spread their clothes before Jesus were doing so as paying reverence before a King.  There is a corresponding spiritual interpretation, my study bible notes, which expresses our need to lay down our flesh and our lives for Christ -- indeed our entire worldly identity.

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying:  "'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!'  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  The people shout from Psalm 118:25-26, Scripture associated with messianic expectation.  This was recited for six days during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), the feast of the Coming Kingdom, and seven times on the seventh day as branches were waved.

And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples."  Bu He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."  The welcome of the Messiah into the heavenly city is irrepressible, a powerful reality that transcends time and all boundaries in its true effect, so that all of creation rejoices.  This event is commemorated in the Church as Palm Sunday, the day that begins Holy Week, in which Jesus' hour of "glory" comes on the Cross, and His suffering, death, and Resurrection defeats even death.

I am always intrigued by Jesus' reference to the crying out of the stones.  In Exodus, the garments of Aaron, the first in the lineage of priests before the altar, are fashioned with stones -- all of which represent all the sons of Israel before God (Exodus 28:12-21).  When Elijah contests with the prophets of Baal for the God of Israel, he lays the foundation of his altar with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes whose name is Israel (1 Kings 18:31).  John the Baptist tells the people who come for his baptism, "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,  and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8).  St. Peter writes of the faithful that each comes to Christ as a "living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious," and that as "living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5).  In the Revelation, we read, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it" (Revelation 2:17).  In each of these cases, stones are associated with names, and a name represents all of a person, such as when we pray "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 5:17).  But I think that in addition to all of these images of stones representing human beings, Jesus' words in today's reading give us a sense of all of creation rejoicing in the Incarnation, and indeed, even in the Passion that is about to unfold at Jerusalem.  It is the Cross and its power that gives us the full meaning and impact of the Incarnation, and the defeat of the final enemy of all of creation, death itself.  Jesus' statement indicates to us that the Incarnation isn't only about the salvation of human beings, but for the whole of the world -- meaning the whole of the cosmos, all of creation.  John's Gospel tells us, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:16-17).   The word used for "world," in each case in the quotation, is not the Greek word for "earth," but the word cosmos/κοσμος, which does not merely mean "universe" in Greek but rather all that is created; that is, visible and invisible, as it says in the Creed.   What is to be achieved at Jerusalem in this week ahead of Jesus will transform the world and the cosmos -- and is for all of it, all of us, all of the created order.  In Christ's Ascension, we're told, the angels marvel at human nature transfigured and entering the heavenly realm, rejoicing at this extraordinary transformation of all that is and what it means for everything (see the commentary of St. Cyril of Alexandria on the Gospel of John 14:2-3 here).  From the stones of the world to the powers of heaven, all of reality is transformed in this week which Christ begins with His entrance into Jerusalem.  We understand it to be not only the worldly, earthly Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem in which the angels celebrate always, and we join them in our worship.  Let us consider the power of Christ to change everything and anything.  What we do in a gesture of worship honors all of this; He to whom we pray is all of this.  He reminds us of the nature of the entire created order when He teaches that even the very stones would cry out should His followers be silenced.







Wednesday, June 12, 2019

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


 Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said:  "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.'  But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'   And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  Then another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.  And he said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'  And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'  (But they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas.')  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.'"

- Luke 19:11-27

Yesterday we read that Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house."  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."  Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."  And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

 Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said:  "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.  So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.'"   As they go toward Jerusalem, expectations regarding the manifestation of the kingdom of God -- and the Messiah entering Jerusalem -- are very high.  We can't escape this understanding of the time of the Incarnation in Israel.  Jesus responds to such expectations by giving a parable which illustrates and emphasizes the use of our own gifts given by God.  It is important to note that while in this story the currency is one called a mina (a single mina was equivalent to about three months' wages for a laborer), this story in Matthew (Matthew 25:14-30) is illustrated with a currency called a talent (a very large weight of gold or silver, worth 60 minas).  It is no accident that through that version of the parable, we gain our modern English meaning of the word "talent."  The amount each one receives, my study bible says, is based on his or her abilities (Romans 12:4-7). 

"But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'   And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  Likewise he said to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  Then another came, saying, 'Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.  And he said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'"   And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'  (But they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas.')  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.'"   The citizens who hate and reject the nobleman refer to those who will reject and put Jesus to death in Jerusalem; the return after receiving His kingdom clearly refers to Christ's second coming and to the ultimate judgment.  My study bible says that this wicked servant couldn't evade responsibility for ignoring his gifts, as idleness is as much a rejection of God as outright wickedness.   To put away the mina in a handkerchief is not only to fail to use it, but the word for handkerchief in this case begs us to think about its meaning.  It indicates not just a cloth used for perspiration of blowing one's nose, but was also used as a shroud for the head of a corpse.  In Matthew's version of the parable, this wicked servant says he buried the talent he was given, and this is in some sense equivalent.  Whatever the meaning, he has wasted his talent on things worth discarding or burying; one interpretation of burial is to say he used his talent only for earthly pursuits.  Additionally, a bank in this case would represent the Church, a place where the mina would be put to use, and there are others to consult to help to use it wisely. 

 So what are wise uses of talents or gifts?  Jesus does not give us an image of barter here.  The nobleman doesn't leave people with commodities to trade.  These gifts given to the individuals are all the equivalent of a form of exchange, of currency, money.  That is, they can be turned into many possibilities, and can always be used no matter what the "market" seems to demand.  In this sense, the money (whether that be "minas" or "talents" in the ancient currencies of Christ's time) is something that can be used in all kinds of ways, and through our own choice, and at any time.  It is up to each person what he or she will do with it.  This is an important distinction, as we tend to think of talent in the modern sense as meant for one thing or another.  In this sense, a gift from God might be, for example, intelligence.  What are we going to use our intelligence for?  Another gift could be the gift of understanding or insight into people.  Are we going to use that gift of understanding to help and heal, to direct to the purposes of God -- or to manipulate, coerce, and use others for more "earthly" goals?  A currency stores value and is, as well, a medium of exchange.  Even the reference to the bank is an ancient Greek word for "table" (and used, still, to mean "bank" in modern Greek).  But its root indicates the table of exchange -- and a place where we may take advice on what to trade that currency for, how to put it to work, where to invest it or purchase with it, and even to make it grow so that others may use it later.  In this sense, the bank as symbolic for Church teaches us that when we don't quite know what to do with our time, talents, capacities, and direction in life, we go to pray.  In prayer, we may "park" our abilities in a place where they may grow and bear interest.  We place our faith in the vault of the whole of the Church, the Body of Christ, from which we seek guidance, where we can trust such an investment will bear interest for the Kingdom.  If we think of all that we have as currency -- that which is inherently of great value, and capable and meant for exchange -- then we start to think of ourselves as agents.  That is, we are always left with the question of what we choose to do, where we place our trust, invest our time and effort, and perhaps most importantly, where we can go without wasting time and ability when we await the clear understanding of what we are to do.  Prayer, in this sense of investment, becomes something we can always do with our free time ("pray without ceasing" - 1 Thessalonians 5:17), as well as an intentional use of our God-given capacities for doing good.   Our lives as endowed with tremendously valuable gifts by God become, in the sense of the currency or medium of exchange of the parable, means by which we may choose what fruit they will bear -- and our intentions and choices create real outcomes.  Faith becomes, in this perspective, the indispensable way to invest in what we truly need to create lives that build something worthwhile in the world.  Indeed, with this given point of view, it is faith that will make all the difference in the outcome.  In what do you invest and put your faith and trust?  Where does your effort go?  Let us remember prayer as a constantly available means of directing our energies and effort, and seeking the way to create the best outcome for our lives and our world.   To be given a gift in the form of currency indicates that within the infinite choices for exchange lies a command for creativity and imagination -- and in that vein, who knows what valuable opportunities exist even in the elements of our lives we consider to be impediments, handicaps, even flaws?  There is the proverbial lemonade -- or why not even lemon chiffon pie? -- that comes from lemons, as the American idiom goes.  Let us learn to make of our lives what our faith can help us to make, for the glory of God.