Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Watch therefore, and pray always that you maybe counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man


Then He spoke to them a parable:  "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you maybe counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.

- Luke 21:29-38

In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued His prophesy regarding the destruction of the temple during the devastation of Jerusalem, and also regarding end times:  "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who hare in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.  And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

Then He spoke to them a parable:  "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."  Again, today's reading is a combination of prophesy regarding what is to pass in Jerusalem within a generation's time, and the end times of His return.  We know what happened in Jerusalem in year 70; but Christ's words apply to the entire era since His Resurrection.   My study bible suggests that this generation refers to all believers at all times, the generation of the Church.  There are ways in which His specific warnings (see the readings from Saturday and Monday) directly teach the specific destruction that will come to the temple and to the city.   But the warnings of wars, famines, and other natural disasters ring true for the entire era.

"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you maybe counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."  And in the daytime He was teaching in the temple, but at night He went out and stayed on the mountain called Olivet.  Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him.  These words are given the greatest emphasis in patristic commentary.  My study bible says that Christ's purpose in this discourse isn't to make us experts on end-time prophecy.  Rather, He gives us this prophecy in order to make us aware of our need to watch, and to pray always.  In the original Greek text, this reads that we must watch at all seasons, and pray always that we may have the strength to escape these things that are coming to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.

At the beginning of Jesus' discourse, right after His vivid prophecy of the images of the destruction of the temple, Jesus taught that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven."   Nearly all of these things are events with which we are familiar.  In some sense, we may even say most of them characterize our times.  They are things we hear about on news broadcasts.  So we may infer that the teachings Christ gives here warn not simply specifically about the terrible destruction that is to come in Jerusalem, but also that they apply to our own times.  The destructive power of war becomes ever more destructive.  Proxy battles between large powers rage, even without troops present from the countries supplying weapons to both sides.  Today extreme destruction is possible through remote telecommunications, as are assassinations and bombings via drone strike.  Violence and displacement of populations through warfare and related violence takes place in our world at a greater rate than ever before, with refugee crises involving far greater populations as a result.  We could safely say that in a time of such instability, even "fearful sights" have become something with which we have become all too familiar.  In Christian history, there have also been reported various signs from heaven, but these have been associated with revelation of God's help to Christian faithful (for example, Constantine's vision at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, which led to the end of Christian persecutions by the Roman Empire).   As our era has unfolded, which continues to include persecutions in various places, let us consider what this means for us.  When we see fearful sights, tremendous and growing violence, growing fears of natural disasters, let us consider that it is a time to remind ourselves of Christ's words.  His commands to us are simply to watch and to pray always.  We're not to be fearful, we're not to indulge in end-time speculations and fantasies.  We know what we are to be about; we have work to do as His good servants, as His disciples.  This word for "watch" in the Greek of the original text means being alert and awake, not sleeping.  It means to be vigilant, ready to act.  The emphasis here is on what we are to be doing, following His commands.  He gives us a proper work to do, and as His disciples we should take that seriously.  This is the opposite of fearful behavior; it is rather to live with full purpose, all the time.  Let us always keep this in mind, particularly when we see sights designed to simply make us afraid.



Monday, December 10, 2018

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near


 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who hare in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

- Luke 21:20-28

Yesterday we read that, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, Jesus said, "These things which you see --- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."  So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."  Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."

 "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.  Then let those who hare in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.  For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies those days!  For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations.  And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."  Jesus' prophesy of the Roman Siege of Jerusalem is vivid and graphic.  They are images of the urgency to flee, to take the warnings seriously.  They would be fulfilled in AD 70.  The early Church thereby escaped and survived this devastating event. 

"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."  Jesus' description of end times and His return is mixed with the warnings about the destruction and devastation to come after a generation to Jerusalem.   That the powers of the heavens will be shaken indicates a tremendous cosmic event.  The one thing that is clear about Jesus' return, coming in a cloud with power and great glory, is that it will be an event known to all when it happens, unmistakable to the whole world. 

As is consistent with descriptions of the end times found elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus' prophecy mixes events concerned with the destruction of Jerusalem (and the Second Temple) which would take place a generation after He speaks, and the time of His second coming, which we yet await.  For all kinds of reasons, these two things coincide with one another, not least of which is the tremendous shift involved from one covenant to another, and Jesus' words in John's Gospel that "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth"  (John 4:24).  The destruction of the temple is a type of manifestation of this truth, a sign that God is not in one place or another, nor in one building or another, but that God's kingdom is within us and among us (17:21).  Jesus' Resurrection begins the end times, in which we now live.  We are all familiar with "wars and rumors of wars," nations rising against nations, devastation, famines, earthquakes, persecutions which Jesus warns about.  But of one thing He wishes us to be certain:  our faith.  When He returns, we will all know it and it will be unmistakable and obvious to all.  We are to endure through all things, and count all experiences as possible opportunities for witnessing.  Persecution is not the true end, nor is death by martyrdom the true end.  We must remember what we are to be about, as His good servants, and as those who have been made aware of the reality behind all that we will see and experience.  What Christ gives us, then, is a focus and a way to see.  No matter what happens or befalls us, He seems to teach, there is a way to think of our lives and our purpose, and that derives from faith.  Fear is not the purpose of these prophetic warnings.  Rather, His purpose is the opposite:  to give us a way to live through them and know Whose we are and what we are to be about.  He gives us a point of reference for all things, including our very identities, and perspectives from which we live our lives.  When we face conflict or even world-shattering experiences, let us remember what He tells us about ourselves and our hearts.  He gives us the true center of our own being from which we are to view everything.





Saturday, December 8, 2018

You will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your soul


 Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see --- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."

So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."

Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."

- Luke 21:5-19

Yesterday we read that Jesus said to the scribes in the temple, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:  'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'  Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?"  Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."  And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."

Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see --- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down."   I think we really cannot imagine the stunning effect of Christ's words.  The temple had been rebuilt and expanded by Herod the Great (father of Herod Antipas).  Herod the Great was so famous for his grand building projects he was also called Herod the Builder.  The temple at Jerusalem at this time was considered one of the wonders of the world, both for the scope of its architectural ambition, and for its great beauty.  Moreover, for these who listen to Christ, we must consider that for the Jews, the temple was the place where God dwelt.  This is unthinkable, world-shattering news.  Jesus' prophecy was fulfilled one generation later, in AD 70, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans.  Christ's prophecy became quite literally true, as the soldiers believed there was gold between the stones.  Only a fragment of one retaining wall was left, now called the Western Wall.

So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be?  And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?"  And He said:  "Take heed that you not be deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.'  Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately."    As we can see by Jesus' words, the destruction of the temple is inseparable from the idea of end times, and therefore of His return.  The chaos that will result from the destruction of the city itself is unimaginable.  But the first concern here is that there will be those who claim that Christ has returned, and His first warning is to His disciples not to believe them, not to be deceived.

Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake." Jesus warns of violence to come, both man-made and natural.  He also speaks of fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  All of these things, like the destruction of the temple, are extremely frightening, destabilizing, terrifying.  And on top of that, Jesus speaks to His disciples of the persecution for them that is to come, both from their own people the Jews (synagogues) and from the Romans (prisons).   They will be brought both before kings and rulers (again, authorities of both Gentiles and Jews).  Despite the fearful sights and terrifying ordeals, Christ's emphasis here is on endurance, and reliance upon their faith in Him, even through betrayal by parents and brothers, relatives and friends, and the certain threat of death for some of them.   Moreover, they will be hated by all because of their faith and association with Christ.   The main emphasis Christ's gives this scenario where all the world is shaken, and nothing is certain, is that it will be an occasion for testimony.   The word here in the Greek is μαρτύριον/martyrion, which means testimony (or in verb form, to testify).  It is also the root for witness, from which comes the word "martyr."

"But not a hair of your head shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls."   Again, we must take a good and clear look at Christ's emphasis here.  It is on the transcendence and ever-present reality of the kingdom of God and their membership in it.  His emphasis is on endurance, forbearance, patience -- and the all-precious possession of their souls.

There are many interpretations of end time scenarios, from popular media and films to new theories seeming to spring up all the time.  But there are a few things we understand from the tradition of the Church and from the patristic viewpoint on all of the Scriptural references to them (Eschatology).  First of all, the end times are not simply what might "be coming" in the future.  The end times began for the world with Christ's Resurrection; they are the times in which we now live.  The persecutions and wars against which Jesus warns did occur within that generation that was to come.  The destruction of the temple most certainly occurred in AD 70.  But the warnings about wars and upheavals, pestilences, even persecutions do not apply only to that time; neither does the warning about natural disasters, or even signs in heaven.  These statements apply to the times in which we live and have been living for 2,000 years, this era in which we await His return.  So rather than focus on the prophecy (which will continue in the readings for Monday and Tuesday as well), let us consider Jesus' emphasis here.  It is not on the shock value of the prophecy, nor is it on a specific time-frame.  In fact, He avoids that altogether; we have not been given a time-table of any kind.  Jesus' emphasis is on our work, behavior, and preparedness at this time.  As we will read, He will emphasize our practice of virtue, our awareness of His purposes and commandments for us, and especially our alertness to the times.  He gives us these prophecies so that we don't sleep, so that we are always aware of what it is we are to be about as His good servants, and prepared for the challenges that may come in this time.  He gives us a clear "gameplan" -- the events we experience may present opportunities for witnessing, for testimony.  Some may even be asked for their very lives.  But by our own patience we will possess our souls, no harm shall come to a hair of our heads:  meaning by this that we are protected in that heavenly kingdom, our places and the fullness of our lives remain there.  The wars and signs, pestilences and terrifying disasters are signs of one thing:  a kind of spiritual battle that is taking place behind everything we see and experience.  They are forms of imagery used to tell us of "war in heaven" in the Revelation, and come to us from far earlier, in the Book of Daniel.  St. Paul writes frequently about this as well.  But we shouldn't let the images take over our understanding of what this means for us, where our own emphasis should be.  Nor should we forget that we are living now in the "end times" -- and that the whole of our era since His Resurrection constitutes this time.  As we await His return, consider what your life is all about.  If His return were to happen tomorrow, what is your personal emphasis today?  What is it that you wish to contribute to the world?  What gives your life purpose and meaning?  What is that precious soul that you possess, and how do you retain that possession in His sight?  These are the things He asks of us; they require of us courage, patience, forbearance, insight, understanding, wisdom, and most of all awareness.  He wants us not to go through our lives unaware of these spiritual realities, but rather living them.  Where is your witness?  Let us remember we testify simply by the ways in which we choose to live and make our choices.









Friday, December 7, 2018

Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had


 And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:
'The LORD said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'
"Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?"

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."

- Luke 20:41-21:4

Yesterday we read that some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Jesus 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.

 And He said to them, "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the Book of Psalms:  'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'  Therefore David calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?"   After verbally fencing with the leaders in the temple while they questioned Him, Jesus now goes on the offensive, so to speak, with His own perspective and gospel message.  In this vein, He quizzes them with a kind of riddle they dare not answer, as the logical conclusion is that He is God incarnate.  Here, the first reference to the LORD applies to God the Father.  The term my Lord is a reference to Christ.  My study bible adds that this question is answered in that Christ is the Son of David in His humanity, and yet David's Lord in His divinity.  The belief of the leadership is that the Messiah is a man; yet David, as king of Israel, could not and would not address anyone as "Lord" except God.

Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  These will receive greater condemnation."  The emphasis here in Luke is on the ambition and greed the scribes embody, and their absorption in the externals, the image they make before others, which results in hypocrisy.  Jesus suggests here that their hypocrisy is linked to greater condemnation.  Think of it:  as characterized by Jesus, these men place all emphasis on the external, their image before others, while He makes sure His criticism is said in the hearing of all the people.

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.  So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."  In contrast to Jesus' criticism of the scribes, He praises this poor widow.  My study bible says that in the patristic perspective, the Lord accounts the value of a gift not by how much is given, but rather by how much is kept back.  That means that this poor widow is counted to have given a tremendous gift.  She has kept nothing for herself.  Those who give out of their abundance but have plenty back for themselves have not given so much as she.

Among the many names of Jesus is "Heart-knower" or "Knower-of-hearts."   When the disciples must choose another to replace Judas, there are two men nominated.  In Acts 1:24, they are about to cast lots.  The text tells us they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen . . .."  The English phrase is translated from a single word in the Greek (καρδιογνώστης/kardiognostes); it's really two words put together, literally meaning "heart-knower."  In Psalm 139, the Lord is addressed as the One who knows more about us than we can know about ourselves.  Verse 23 declares, "Search me, O God, and know my heart."  In today's reading, Jesus not only shows Himself as the "Heart-knower" but His entire emphasis is on what is in the heart.  As Lord of King David, Christ is truly the heart-knower; He is the only One to whom David has to answer and give an account of himself.  When Jesus criticizes the scribes, the emphasis He places is on what is in their hearts; or more specifically, what is missing here.   His criticism stems from their emphasis on image and externals:  long robes, greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, and the pretense of long prayers.   Finally, Jesus turns and singles out a poor widow, even while the rich are putting lavish gifts into the treasury.  He praises her gift as more than all.  In each of these examples in today's reading, Jesus is urging us to learn what truth is beyond the superficial, beyond the image created as appearance.  The truth, He says, is in deeper meanings, insights into the heart and the choices that people make.  Take a good hard look at the heart of King David, who knows who his Lord is.  David's spiritual understanding was not limited to expectation of One to come who was connected only through human lineage.  Everything we know about David, and particularly the Psalms attributed to him, teaches us that he lived his life with a clear awareness at all times of the God he loved, and God's presence in his life, God's face before him.  Therefore we can always read in the psalms the great emphasis on the heart and the state and condition of the heart.  The emphasis is on the full picture of who we are, in the depth of the heart.  Today's reading begins with a question designed to open up the identity of Christ Himself to those who have been interrogating Him.  It expands into criticism of the life lived for image on the part of the scribes; that is, a life lived on the surface, for what others see.  Finally He peers into the depth of the heart of the poor widow; comparing her to others who give lavish gifts, He praises hers as "most of all."  The message is that Jesus wants us to dive deep, not to live on the surface -- that what we see of life most often isn't the full picture at all.   He invites us into better judgment:  to get to know ourselves, to live in this depth of reality which only comes from humility, so that we may better discern life around us.  Jesus sees the truth of the widow, and invites us into that truth, teaching us to find who we are in the sight of God.  It is only there that we come to know ourselves, and by extension to begin to better perceive others.  Where does your relation to the world begin?  Can you dig under the surface as did King David before God, when he wrote, "Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom" (Psalm 51).  Everything comes from this place where we know God's love, and may be granted the wisdom of truth in the inward parts, so that we may truly see as Christ asks us to see.




Thursday, December 6, 2018

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

Yesterday we read that, after Jesus preached the parable of the Wicked Vinedressers, 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, 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."  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 confirms that there will be a resurrection, but that the Sadducees are mistaken in their assumptions about what that means, and even the nature of eternal life.   The party of the Sadducees was a wealthy landowning aristocratic class from around Jerusalem.  After the Siege of Jerusalem this party would no longer exist.  Through this question, they reveal their assumptions about the doctrine of revelation, in which they did not believe -- that it was a continuation of earthly life, including earthly marriage.  Therefore they mock it with an absurd scenario.  But, as Jesus says, they are ignorant of the Scriptures, which reveal a complete transfiguration of life in the resurrection.  My study bible says this makes their earthly question (and others like it) irrelevant.  In addition, they don't understand how Abraham and his sons can be alive in God even if they are physically dead.  My study bible also remarks that it is the clear teaching of Christ that the souls of the faithful who has left this life are sustained before the face of God in anticipation of the final joy of the resurrection.

What is the resurrection going to be like?  I think that we can hardly imagine it, as Jesus tells us that life beyond this world entails a distinctive transfiguration, transformation, to another life of a completely different nature.  Jesus says they 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.   What that seems to indicate to me is that all relationships are changed; the very nature of "family" no longer applies.  Blood relation and connection through social contracts are not that which creates communion.  Rather, those "who are counted worthy to attain that age" (as Jesus puts it) are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.  Therefore our very nature changes should we be among those who are counted worthy to attain that age.  How can we have any idea what this means?  So much of what we base relatedness or relationship upon will shift with such a tremendous change.  Surely, a life lived in an awareness of the embrace of the love of God will go a long ways to prepare us for this communion.  Christ calls us to an awareness of a type of relatedness while we yet live in this world that reflects the communion He brings to us, the awareness of how faith creates "right-relatedness" -- which is another term for righteousness.  His encouragement in yesterday's reading (above) to "render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" becomes a beginning step, a practice, an initiation and encouragement to begin to enter into the kind of life of the resurrection that He describes, in which how we relate to others, and to the world around us, is determined by this identity in faith.  It is His entire mission, somehow, and the message of the gospel He brings, to initiate us into life in this Kingdom, even as it may be lived -- within us and among us -- while we are still here in this world.  The Sadducees are clearly quite worldly-minded.  Their Scriptures were the Torah (or the Pentateuch), the first five books of what we call the Old Testament.   Therefore their faith is for the most part based purely in the Law.  Their place among the ruling council is determined through property and lineage, especially regarding the maintenance of the temple.  No wonder it is hard for them to grasp the concept of resurrection, and easy to ridicule.  But if we pay attention to Christ, we are all asked to "go there," at least to begin to understand ourselves in the sense in which we may participate in the resurrection, in this eternal life Christ teaches about.  On what do we base our identity?  How are we sons of God?   If so, what is it that we stand to inherit?  Moreover, how do our lives reflect that truth of the communion established through this Kingdom and this nature we might live out in the world?  Does it change the ways that relate to the world and to one another -- even the nature of how we treat property?  In this light, we are stewards of the created world, given to us by a gracious God in whose image and likeness we are to grow.  Therefore, questions concerning the nature of resurrection and eternal life are not that far from us, after all.  They concern our very nature, the core of identity we may wish to reconsider for ourselves, and more particularly, what we consider to be rooted in our faith and the love of God.  With so much emphasis on "family values" in our churches and in religious life of all stripes in the world, one would think that possibly better emphasis would be placed on the quality of those relationships we have -- and even just what constitutes family in a deeper sense.  If our identity is to be rooted in God who is love, then what does that say about who we truly are, and how we are related, or in communion, with one another?  Let us reconsider our own identities in light of Christ's teaching, and reorient our priorities.  Where is the devotion of our heart and soul and strength in this light, and how does that shape the basis of our point of view?  There is a lot to consider in Christ's answer, and also in the ignorance of the Sadducees who ask it.  Somehow their blindness to the end that is coming to their very identities is fitting as signal of their blindness to the eternal life of resurrection and what it means.  Let us learn for ourselves what it may mean to us, and our own blindness to what is, so that we may turn away from putting all our faith in the purely worldly.   That would include notions of family values that are only all about this world and exclude the fullness of our true nature.



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

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

Rubens, Peter Paul.  The Tribute Money. 1612, Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA

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, 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

Yesterday we read that, after being questioned as to His authority, Jesus 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 vinedressers 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, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor.   Luke's Gospel asks us to take note:  not only are the chief priests and scribes anxious to get rid of Jesus, they lay a trap for Him, using spies.  But here is the goal:  they wish to deliver Him to Rome, to the power and the authority of the governor, Pontius Pilate.

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 tells us that this question on taxation is designed to trap Jesus, just as the text has told us was the aim of the religious leadership.  A "yes" answer to their question would turn the Jewish people against Jesus, while a "no" would bring a charge of treason by the Romans.  But once again, Jesus' capacity for language defeats their purpose.  He evades their trap, by showing that a believer can render the state its due while serving God (Romans 13:1-7).  Just as the coin bears the image of the emperor and is properly paid to him, my study bible says, so each person bears the image of God, and therefore belongs to God.  Conflict arises only when the state demands that which is contrary to God. 

The painting above, titled The Tribute Money, by Peter Paul Rubens, was painted in the early 17th century.  It depicts just the scene that is the subject of today's reading in Luke. Interestingly, one can find a copy of this painting hanging above the door to a vestments room at Mission Carmel (or, more formally, Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo), in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  This was the second mission built by Franciscan missionaries in Northern or Alta California, as it was called.  Father Junipero Serra was the Franciscan in charge of the missions, whose headquarters remained with this mission.  First established in the city of Monterey in 1770, the military governor of the region also had its headquarters in the same area.  We're told that this first military governor viewed all Spanish installations in California as military institutions first, and religious outposts second.  He was a harsh governor.  Fr. Serra intervened on behalf of soldiers under him, creating tensions with the governor.  Furthermore, the soldiers treated the Native Californians badly, raping Native women and keeping them as concubines.  Wanting to distance himself and his charges from the military, Fr. Serra received permission to move the mission to its present location of Carmel in 1771, on lands more suitable for farming.  The copy of the Rubens painting hangs in a room behind the main chapel, which was presumably used for vesting before services.  One cannot be certain it was always in this location, but it is telling that for a priest like Fr. Serra the painting would be one hanging in view when preparing for services, as clearly the tension in his own mission was between what he owed to the state (being dependent upon it) and his service to God.   In the stories of the Franciscan and other missionaries throughout the world, one can find similar tensions between the demands of the state (particularly regarding colonization) and the duties of missionaries to their neophyte faithful, their flocks.  Such tensions have been dramatized in films like The Mission (1986) and books such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (1958).  They depict the real life playing out of the tensions Christ outlines for us.  In the painting above, one can spot in the background a man in a large white turban (to the right of the man in the red hood), who is staring at the viewer.  Peering at us from under the turban is the face of Rubens himself, asking us to make the choice Christ points us toward.  Jesus never preaches as if we don't live in a real world with real tensions and difficulties.  The whole story of the Cross is just that:  living in a world that is imperfect, fallen, where evil will challenge us in our own missions serving Christ.  Our whole story and the long history of Christianity is one in which this tension is played out.  But let us remember in whose image we are created, and where our first duty lies.  From its inception, the Church has never distanced herself from the world.  St. Paul's words in Romans 13, cited by my study bible, to his own flock living as Roman citizens, working in the world, are testimony to that.  Ours is not a black-and-white kind of faith, but one that most honors the very fact of God's intervention in human history, the Incarnation itself in which God became one of us and lived among us as Jesus, its highest saint the woman who gave birth to the Christ child.  Perhaps even more important is the perspective of the transcendence of our faith, even as it works out through the temporal.  The Cross is the place where we live that tension, and make those choices, seeking Christ's mission for us as His disciples.  Let us live His wisdom and teaching, and follow Him with our own crosses.



Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder


 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 vinedressers 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." 

- Luke 20:9-18

Yesterday we read that on one of those days, as Jesus taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, 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 vinedressers and give the vineyard to others."   My study bible explains that in this parable, the man represents God the Father.  The vineyard refers to God's people, Israel.  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.  That the Son is cast out of the vineyard to be killed is understood on two levels.  First, that Jesus was killed outside Jerusalem; and second, that Jesus was crucified by foreign soldiers, and not those of His own vineyard.  The others to whom is later given the vineyard are the Gentiles 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."  That stone is Christ, my study bible tells us.  It notes that, according to the commentary of St. John Chrysostom, this saying illustrates the two ways of destruction.  The ones who fall on the stone are those who suffer the effects of their own sins while yet living in this world.  But those upon whom the stone falls are the unrepentant, who become powder in the final judgment.

We often think of such a story, with such an ending as Christ notes here, as purely negative.  That is, it's all about Judgment, and indeed it is.  The stone is Christ.  But that stone also characterizes truth, spiritual truth.  The good news here, hidden in this story, is the interpretation of St. John Chrysostom, who notes that those who fall on the stone are those who suffer the consequences of their own sinfulness, poor choices or habits, ways of life learned from the world, that are not a part of the truth of that stone.  Why is this good news?  Because what it teaches us is that when we stumble in life, it's an opportunity for learning, for growth.  It's a chance for spiritual fruition and maturity, a chance to reconsider and to rebuild.  It gives us an opportunity for repentance, or for change of mind (which is what the word for repentance, metanoia in the Greek, literally means).  We fail to consider, in our "success-minded" points of view in popular culture, that learning and repentance are part and parcel of a well-lived life in this world.  There are really none who are perfect among us.  We all have something to learn.  Life, as Christ presents it, and as the Gospels tell it, is all about a long learning curve.  Do the apostles -- at the time of their call to discipleship -- really already have all the answers?  Do they even understand and know Christ, who He truly is?  Do they know what it means to be bishops and pillars of the Church?  Certainly not.  But discipleship is precisely that walk with Christ wherein we learn what we are to be about in this life.  We learn good goals, and we grow out of our habits and understandings that are mistaken, imperfect, and not in accordance with the goals that Christ would give us.  We learn how to serve.  The very word for disciple in the Greek of the New Testament is μαθητής/mathetes, which literally means "learner."   In this sense, our very "brokenness" is an opportunity, a gift -- if we turn to Christ for the perspective of the Cross.  When we lose sight of our goal, a walk with Christ in which we grow in image and likeness, and in which we come gradually to learn who we truly are through this communion, then we begin thinking in terms of a legalistic perfection.  Christ's preaching, teaching, actions in human history as Jesus, teach us anything but such a notion.  The very fact that His struggle with the religious leadership is over such things as the fact that tax collectors and sinners come to hear Him, or that He has performed healings on the Sabbath day (which they believe is a breach of the Sabbath law), teach us the opposite thing.  We are all meant to be learners through our faith.  With Christ as the stone that may be our stumbling block, we are on the right road through repentance, reconsideration, a willingness to connect with Creator to find our way, and our true lives in the process.  Let us consider the gift from the One whose very rebuke to us is an act of love.