Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!


 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."  They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets.  And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.

Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.  Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this?  What new doctrine is this?  For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."  And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.

- Mark 1:14-28

Yesterday we read the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the Prophets:  "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You."  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'"  John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.  I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."  It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."   My study bible remarks that Mark's emphasis on John the Baptist being put in prison before Jesus begins preaching the gospel reveals that a key purpose of the old covenant -- that of preparing the people for Christ -- had been completed (Galatians 4:1-5).  After Christ came, the time of preparation was fulfilled.  What does it mean to repent precisely?  The word in Greek literally means "change of mind."  It is to do an "about-face" in the words of my study bible.  It notes that repentance is a radical change of one's spirit, mind, thought, and heart.  That is, a complete reorientation to a life centered in Christ.  And this choice for repentance -- reorientation to Christ, and reconsideration of our ways of thinking -- is simply an ongoing process throughout our lives.  It is a lifelong journey on Christ's "Way," one of patience, humility, and especially of grace.

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."  They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets.  And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.   As we noted in yesterday's reading, these first disciples had already heard the preaching of John the Baptist, and so were prepared to accept Christ immediately.  (See also John 1:35-51.)  My study bible says that although they were illiterate and unlearned in religion, these "people of the land" whom Jesus calls will be revealed at Pentecost to be the wisest of all.

Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.  Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this?  What new doctrine is this?  For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."   Here we are given one immediate effect of the gospel and the coming of Christ.  We are exposed to a battle taking place behind the scenes.  Jesus has clearly come to disrupt a particular order of things, and there are those in this "hidden" world who do recognize Him but want nothing to do with Him and fear Him.

And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.  My study bible comments that the word immediately occurs almost forty times in Mark's Gospel.  Nearly all of these references occur before the Lord's entrance into Jerusalem.  It says that the sense of urgency and purpose as Christ journeys toward Jerusalem to fulfill His mission of redeeming the world helps make Mark's account not simply the shortest, but also the most direct of all four Gospels.

What is spiritual battle?  In yesterday's reading, we read that immediately after Christ's baptism by John the Baptist, at which He was revealed as beloved Son of God, the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (see above).  This time of temptation is reported in more detail by Matthew and Luke.  But this very struggle against spiritual temptation is itself spiritual battle.  It is a battle not like anything we know on worldly terms, but rather a battle for hearts and minds.  It's a battle that runs at the center of ourselves, with battle lines drawn in the heart.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes (in The Gulag Archipelago), "If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"   Spiritual struggle, or battle, is all about faith.  It is all about this call of Christ to repentance, to an ongoing understanding of what it means to turn to Christ in love and to accept a correction, to find a better way, His way.  What we learn from the Gospels is humility and grace, and turning to Christ is what spiritual struggle is all about.  Like Solzhenitsyn writes, it is all about a kind of dividing line of the heart.  Solzhenitsyn asks, "Who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"  But this question is answered firmly by Christ Himself, when He teaches that we must cast out an "eye or hand or foot" that causes offense.  (See Matthew 19:8-9, in which this statement is made in teaching the apostles how to care for the littlest ones they are responsible for with humility.)  In this image of casting off seemingly essential pieces of ourselves, Christ teaches that ways of thinking and being that we need to cast off can seem like pieces of our own heart we must give up.   Christ's struggle with temptation in the wilderness gives us the keys to our own battles:  a constant returning to our relationship of love with God, the humility before God this asks of us, and the willingness to reconsider the things the world offers us in that light, even things we may hold as good and precious that are not really so.  Therefore, the ongoing process of repentance or "change of mind" is in itself the very spiritual battle we need be concerned with.  The casting out of the demon in today's reading is perhaps an extreme example of what may be possible in such a battle; but it is Christ who is the "stronger man," and our faith in Him is the true strength upon which we rely.  His "way" is our guide.  The great weapon is humility.  St. Paul writes about this spiritual battle when he teaches us to "put on the whole armor of God" (see Ephesians 6:10-20).  Among other elements of that armor, St. Paul writes that we should "pray always."  These are the battle lines that go through our hearts and minds, our protection and strength is in the faith that teaches us reliance upon Christ and the grace of the Spirit.  Let us consider, in all the wide world that calls us in clamor and conflict, where our true heart is and what we need in that center of ourselves and our lives.


Monday, January 14, 2019

You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased


 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the Prophets:
"Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You."
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.'"
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.  I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.

- Mark 1:1-13

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of GodThe beginning of the gospel does not mean the beginning of Mark's writings per se, but rather the beginning of the "good news" or "good tidings" -- as the Greek word (εὐαγγέλιον/evangelion) from which we derive the English gospel means.  This extraordinary good news for the world is that of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

As it is written in the Prophets:  "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You."  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'"  John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.  This beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begins not with John the Baptist, per se, as we might assume.  But it begins long before, with the prophets of Israel.  The Gospel echoes Malachi and Isaiah in two quotations, who foretold the mission of John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3).  This gives us an idea of the essential importance of John's mission to the advent of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As we can read here, John was a towering figure in his time, widely revered as a holy man by the people.  The earliest disciples of Christ came to Him from the Baptist (John 1:35-51). 

Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.  I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."  John's dress indicates some very important things about him.  He is clothed in a way similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).  This gives us another hint about the Baptist's role:  his dress gives us signs that he fulfills the prophecy of Elijah's return before the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6), as stated also by Jesus (see Matthew 11:11-15).  His dress also tells us about his radical humility, and why John the Baptist would be a model for all Christian monastics to come, an image of one whose entire life was given over to service of the Lord.  John's words here express that depth of humility and service.

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."    This event is known in the Eastern Churches as Epiphany (Greek "revelation") or Theophany (Greek "revelation of God").  In the most ancient Church, it was celebrated on January 6th together with Nativity, before Nativity was separated and became celebrated on December 25th.  It is the beginning or the birth of Jesus' public ministry.  As we read from Mark's simple and clear text, it is a revelation of the Trinity:  the Father's voice, the declaration that Jesus is the Father's beloved Son, and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.  Immediately the Spirit acts as Christ's worldly ministry begins; the English text tells us that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.  In the Greek, this word translated as drove means something akin to being thrown, cast, or driven out.  To be tempted, my study bible explains, is to be tested in fundamental areas of faith.  In the wilderness, far away from the structures of religion and society, Jesus is tempted as in a battleground.  It is an image of the world, both a dwelling place of demons and also a source of divine tranquility and victory.  See also Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-13.

What does it mean to be tempted?  After His Baptism, at which Jesus is revealed to the the divine Son of God, why is He immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit?  He's not crowned king of Israel, He is not immediately heralded by the entire world as One who should be worshiped.  But this is how His ministry begins, in the wilderness, facing hardship and temptations by the devil.  Mark does not give us all the detail of that time of temptation in the wilderness, but he does make it quite clear that this is the immediate effect of the revelation of just who Jesus is.  At least, there is one very important person, a figure central to the time in Israel -- John the Baptist -- who has clearly understood this truth.  So why is it not declared, proclaimed from the rooftops?  This great "good news" remains something hidden, which must spread and become open in a particular way, through particular people and particular means.  But first, Jesus must struggle with temptation in the wilderness.  Our worldly sense of how things can unfold in a social media-saturated world does not lend itself easily to the ways in which God works in the world.  This revelation of the Trinity is essentially a very private event, given perhaps only to two people at the time.  But the internal worlds that connect us to the reality of spirit and soul also take time to manifest in a worldly sense and in "particular" ways, and God uses time also for particular purposes.  We may find in our own lives that while we set specific goals, or get a glimpse of some understanding of our faith, that we are given "time outs" to face particular internal struggles that demand a reconciliation within us.  We are tested in certain areas of faith, as was Jesus, regarding our capacity for humility, for service to God, and struggling with our own specific temptations from what is purely worldly.  Do we choose goals in order to be praised by others, or to receive a kind of worldly fame?  Are our lives governed by how many followers we have in social media?  What is a true goal and purpose of a well-lived life?  What are the true hallmarks of humility and maturity for a human being?  More importantly, how do we serve the greater goals that a love of God asks of us, and how do these conflict with what it seems the world might clamor for?  These questions remain with us as they were temptations for power, acclaim, wealth, and satisfaction of every impulse or human need in Christ's time.  As we can read in Matthew's and Luke's versions of that time of temptation, questions of security, faith, and worldly power have always been with us, and Jesus experienced it first-hand so that we may follow Him.  It may seem strange to say so, but in John the Baptist's radical image of humility and service we find the answers and key to Christ's handling of such temptations and our own.  There is no greater key to "success" in terms of Christian virtue than humility, no deeper way to face temptation of the world and the traps of easy success.  Christ Himself, even as Lord, sets the example for humility.  In our modern world, there are many who understand gratitude as a way to beat anxiety and depression, the ailments of a world that lives so much through image in the eyes of others.  But if we understand the roots of the practice of gratitude on a deeper basis, then we get to the heart of what sets us in a right place.  We are grateful to Someone, we are humble in the face of the One who is so much greater than we are.  In a relationship of love to God, we are set in a right place with a right relatedness to the world and all that is in it.  Let us remember this greatest of virtues -- humility -- in its historical image given to us in the person of John the Baptist.  Because here is the key to the center of this spiritual story, the intersection of history and God's grace, and the great good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.









Tuesday, December 18, 2018

If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go


 Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest's house.  But Peter followed at a distance.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him."  But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him."  And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are of them."  But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"  Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!"  Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, "Prophesy!  Who is the one who struck You?"  And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, "If You are the Christ, tell us."  But He said to them, "If I tell you, you will by no means believe.  And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go.  Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God."

- Luke 22:54-69

Yesterday we read that, coming out from the Passover supper, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.  When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.  Then he said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."  And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this."  And He touched his ear and healed him.  Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."

Having arrested Him, they led Him and brought Him into the high priest's house.  But Peter followed at a distance.  Now when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him."  But he denied Him, saying, "Woman, I do not know Him."  My study bible explains the paradox and poetry of the Scriptures, at work even at this low point in the story of Christ and the Church.  A girl being the first to test Peter is an icon of the temptation of Adam by Eve (Genesis 3:6).  My study bible says that this, as symbol of our fallen state, is overcome when it is women who are the first to hear, believe, and proclaim the Resurrection (24:1-10).

And after a little while another saw him and said, "You also are of them."  But Peter said, "Man, I am not!"  Then after about an hour had passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, "Surely this fellow also was with Him, for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying!"  Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  So Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Peter's fear is so overwhelming that neither Christ's prediction (verse 34) nor the crowing of the rooster signals a call to repentance, but only Christ's gaze causes him to weep bitterly, according to my study bible.  St. Ambrose of Milan is quoted, who writes that nevertheless, "through tears, what cannot be defended can be purged, for tears wash away the offense which is shameful to confess out loud."

Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, "Prophesy!  Who is the one who struck You?"  And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him.  We see the contempt with which our Lord was treated.  We should understand His condescension to be one of us, to be with us, so that He may bring us all into His Kingdom.  Even as divine Lord, Christ experiences the demeaning and degrading experiences that we may suffer.  Added to these facts, this is also a picture of blasphemy.  But we should consider that these same men -- and the centurion in charge of them -- may also come to repentance and be included in His flock (Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39, Luke 23:47).

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, "If You are the Christ, tell us."  But He said to them, "If I tell you, you will by no means believe.  And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go.  Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God."   Particularly during the time that Jesus was teaching daily in the temple (earlier during the Passover festival), Jesus asked many questions of the Jewish leaders which they refused to answer, because doing so would have meant confessing Him as the Christ (20:4-7; Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 3:4).  At this time, it is as if Jesus is declaring judgement; the time for His effort at dialogue with them is over, as they will refuse to respond either way.  Their minds are made up and hearts are hardened against Him.  His final statement is a declaration that He is equal with God.

In today's reading, we're witness to the power of darkness which Jesus spoke about in yesterday's reading (above).   Jesus is mocked and violently abused by the soldiers.  Moreover, when it comes time for Him to be questioned, He straightforwardly acknowledges His inability to get a fair hearing:  "If I tell you, you will by no means believe.  And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go."  In the midst of what He knows to be certain conviction, and to those who will sit in judgment against Him who have already decided their verdict in advance, Jesus tells the truth.  It's like a conviction He teaches to each of us that no matter how hard things look, we need to face facts.  Jesus will not waste His time attempting to coerce these men to change their minds.  But He does present one more extraordinary fact to them:  He declares His divinity and equality to God.  He tells them, "Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God."   Ironically enough, and of course just as Christ knows full well, this is the "evidence" they need to convict Him of blasphemy.  But in this case, Jesus is telling the truth; He is declaring the extraordinary fact they don't want to hear and don't want to know -- but it is nevertheless a statement which they can and will use to convict Him of the crime of blasphemy, for which they will attempt to have Him put to death by the Roman state.  What is important to know here is that Jesus stands in His truth.  While it appears from all human perspective that this is Christ in some sense "giving in" to these people, giving them what they want in order to convict Him, the tables are turned.  It is He who judges, and His word that judges.  When Christ stands in this truth, it is those who censor Him for it who convict themselves.  Let us keep in mind Christ's abandonment even by one of His closest apostles, the one who speaks for the rest of them, Peter.  The human Jesus is entirely alone.  And yet, He testifies to His truth.  He at once accepts the facts of the matter that are stacked all the way against Him, and He still tells His truth.  We know who Christ is, and the power that He wields as judge and arbiter and the one who gives us the word of truth.  But He also stands in for us, when we may find ourselves in such an unjust position.  We may be abandoned and alone, and surrounded only by those vicious enough to convict us for their own personal reasons.  We find ourselves with those who are not willing to give us a fair hearing.  But, with God, and in a prayerful acceptance of the realities with which we are surrounded, even in the worst of circumstances, we stand in our own truth with only One who judges; that is, Christ.   In an existential sense, this is where we are all the time -- and all the rest of the things we may or may not take for granted make no real substantial difference to us when it comes down to who we are face-to-face with Christ.  That is to say, in this place of terrible abandonment, Christ is neither alone nor without His truth.  He has come to this place simply for us, and so that we know when we may stand in this same place He is with us, and that it is His judgment alone that really counts.  When we are tried in the most difficult and desperate of circumstances, we find Him and the Holy Spirit, and with them God the Father; we take up His courage and His truth, we follow His ways, knowing He was there before us and is yet there with us.  Jesus alone tells us His truth.  The real question is how we can stand in that same place and find our truths with Him.  As we go toward the days we celebrate His birth, let us come to terms about just what it is that determines our truths and our worth, and remember that when all might be against us, it is only His judgment that counts.






Monday, December 17, 2018

And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly


 Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.  When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.  Then he said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."

And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this."  And He touched his ear and healed him.  Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."

- Luke 22:39-53

Yesterday we read that after the Passover supper the Lord said, "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death."  Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."  And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?"  So they said, "Nothing."  Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.  For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me:  'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'  For the things concerning Me have an end."  So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords."  And He said to them, "It is enough."

Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.  When He came to the place, He said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."  Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.  Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow.  Then he said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation."  This is Christ's agony in the garden of Gethsemane.  My study bible says that it is the product of His human nature.  When He asks that the cup be taken away, He is revealing His human will.   But He submits His human will to the Father, and in so doing reveals that His divine will is one with the Father's.  Moreover, it gives us a model for ourselves:  each one of us must submit our own will to God's will (11:2).  My study bible explains that thus Christ willingly takes in Himself the voice of weak humanity, and thereby conquers weakness.  It quotes the commentary of St. Gregory the Great:  "The words of weakness are sometimes adopted by the strong in order that the hearts of the weak may be strengthened."

And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him.  But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, "Permit even this."  And He touched his ear and healed him.  This healing is mentioned only in the Gospel of Luke, the physician.  My study bible says that it indicates the manner in which we are to treat our enemies.  By patristic tradition, there is also a spiritual meaning here, in which we understand that it is Christ who gives people the ability to hear the truth and thereby come to salvation (see 8:8, 14:35). 

Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness."   In the New Testament, the understanding of light and darkness features prominently in various sayings of Jesus.  While He taught His truth openly in the temple, these men were afraid to seize Him before the people.  But here in the darkness there is the power of darkness, that which seeks to hide from the Light (see John 3:19-21; 13:30).

What is the power of darkness?  This is the hour when that which seeks the darkness strikes; it desires to work in a way that is hidden, and does so for a particular reason.  Jesus tells a truth that the people wish to hear.  When He engages in open controversy in the light, teaching daily in the temple, He does not do so in order to stir up a mob, nor to seize power under false pretenses, nor to sway people with lies.  But the power of darkness is that which embraces manipulation of all kinds, including violence and lies.  What we are given in today's verses of Luke's Gospel is not so much an exposition on darkness and light, as it is the quite essential teachings of Christ for how we seek to cope with the actions of the darkness, the times of its power, and its hour.  Most noticeable are  simply Jesus' repeated teachings to the apostles:  Pray that you may not enter into temptation.  When He finds them sleeping, after His own strengthening through prayer, He repeats this teaching to them:  Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.  What stands out in today's reading is Christ's teaching to us for coping with the times of darkness and its power:  Prayer.  This is the first way to shore up strength and personal reserves for coping with the times when we are under tremendous personal stress and difficulty.  These will always be times for us of temptation.  Think about the challenges one faces in life.  Perhaps our greatest challenges are those times of terrible stress and fear.  We might be faced with a healthcare crisis, either for ourselves or for someone who we love.  We may be in the middle of a family drama at the time of the death of a loved one, always a stressful time no matter what the circumstances.  Perhaps we find ourselves as a victim of a crime, or a loved one or a friend.  Maybe there is a different and frightening threat involved in some aspect of our lives.  Holidays themselves can be stressful and trying, particularly for individuals coping with addictions and family trauma.  In every single case, prayer can be understood as recommended by Christ (and as reported by Luke the physician) as our first and last resort for coping with the times of darkness, times when we are threatened by something that gives rise to terrible fears.  It is important to punctuate these times with remembrance of God through prayer, because it is through prayer that we find ourselves bolstered to make the difficult decisions, and as Christ says, to keep the temptations away for falling into error and stumbling with our own human frailties.   Taking time out for regular prayer is a must for such times, such as during a hospital vigil, for example.  Prayer has a way of feeding our reserves of strength, shoring up our better natures, giving us the courage to make difficult decisions in hard circumstances -- particularly when temptation abounds during times of darkness and we are coping with the effects of evil in any form.  Practices such as prayers of the Hours (see this page on my blog for an example),  or intermittent prayer of any type are helpful.  One can do an internet search for prayers written for specific hours of the day (such as Compline or Vespers) or for specific occasions.  There are types of prayer which suit all times and every personal need and individual capacity.   Even the stressful time of shopping for gifts for Christmas -- a time meant to be joyful, but reported by so many to be otherwise -- is a good occasion for intermittent prayer.   A short phrase repeated to oneself at any time in silence (such as the Jesus Prayer or "Lord have mercy") may be a helpful practice for getting us through it in gratitude.  This season, while we celebrate the birth of our Savior, can also be a time of disappointments, old hurts revisited, and a feeling that we are missing out on what others have.  In today's reading, in this reporting of the worst of times, both Jesus' example -- His action of prayer -- and His repeated teaching to the apostles, are the best ways to understand the true medicine we need for our souls to help us make the best choices, even in the worst of circumstances with seemingly only bad options all around.  Let us consider, as we head into the holidays, that we live in an imperfect world.  We don't practice magic.  Instead, we have faith and the tools and weapons of prayer, the whole armor of God, that He gives us and teaches to us.  They are with us and ready for us always. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren


 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death."  Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."

And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?"  So they said, "Nothing."  Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.  For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me:  'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'  For the things concerning Me have an end."  So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords."  And He said to them, "It is enough."

- Luke 22:31-38

Yesterday we read that when the hour had come for the Passover supper in the upper room, Jesus sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.  But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table.  And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"  Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this this thing.  Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the One who serves.  But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon!  Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."  But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death."  Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."  Jesus addresses Simon Peter in the beginning of this statement.  But when He says Satan has asked for you, that "you" is plural, indicating all the disciples.  Jesus' statement to Peter, I have prayed for you, however, is singular, meaning that Jesus has prayed particularly for Simon Peter.  My study bible notes that because Peter's faith was the strongest, he would be tested the most.  Strengthen your brethren echoes Christ's words to Peter in John's Gospel, after the time referred to here in the prophecy of Peter's denial of Christ three times (see John 21:15-17).  Jesus will tell Peter, "Feed My lambs."  It is a reference not simply to the other disciples, but for all the faithful until Christ returns.

And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?"  So they said, "Nothing."  Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.  For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me:  'And He was numbered with the transgressors.'  For the things concerning Me have an end."  So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords."  And He said to them, "It is enough."  Jesus' ominous words summon up the new time of persecution, beginning with the treatment of their Leader (see John 15:20-21).  He quotes from Isaiah 53:12, referring to the Suffering Servant of God.  My study bible comments that the sword is not to be understood literally (compare to verses 49-51), but refers to the living word of God in the battle against sin (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).  St. Ambrose also is cited here, who adds an additional meaning.  He comments that to give up one's garment and buy a sword refers to surrendering the body to the sword of martyrdom.  As the disciples are thinking of swords literally, Jesus immediately ends the discussion with the words, "It is enough," which is better translated, "Enough of this!" (see Deuteronomy 3:26; Mark 14:41). 

What are the effects of betrayal?  Somehow, like the act of temptation and betrayal of God's loving word in the Garden (Genesis 3), it opens up a kind of Pandora's box, unleashing all sorts of unwarranted and unforeseen evils and subsequent betrayals that accompany it.  One act opens up all the possibilities of the others, exposes vulnerabilities and other temptations, weaknesses, betrayals, and potential for harm.  The injustice in one circumstance opens up all the possibilities of the others.  One may think that is a bit simplistic, or overblown.  But if we take a good look at how life and circumstances unfold in our world, we may find that we can't underestimate the possible effects of a single act.  One considers abuse in childhood and what that can inflict, and conditions it may create for further harm to others in the future.  At the very least, such actions create obstacles for the child to overcome, lasting full well throughout adulthood.  It's no secret that the temptations such abuse opens up for the victim in his or her future life range from the self-destructive to that which causes grave harm to others.  Every new hurt opens up scars from the past and the accompanying need for understanding choice, self-control, and seeking the grace of God for all things.  That is one simple example, but we can consider Judas' act of betrayal and what it opens up for all of the apostles.  Our Lord is the Suffering Servant, the One who is sacrificed for all of us.  He endures more than physical suffering, pain, and death, but undergoes also the betrayal of all of those whom He loves, the people for whom He's been sent.  He will be spat upon and "numbered with the transgressors," treated to a horrific death by crucifixion like the worst criminals of the Roman Empire.  All of this forms a scandal, a stumbling block, that asks those of us whose faith is caught up in this story of our suffering Messiah to choose for Him, for His way through this world in which there are so many temptations for betrayal.  It is Christ to whom we turn for the way through it all, and the saints -- particularly His mother, Mary the God-bearer -- to whom we turn in the pain we, too, may experience through betrayal of one sort or another.  Let us consider what that word betrayal implies.  It's more than a specific act of one friend with another.  Rather, it applies to all conditions and circumstances in which trust is broken, and the love of God and God's teachings that may be involved in that trust.  A child trusts a parent to care for them, a spouse depends upon a marriage partner, a friend to a friend, and the faithful look to their Church and its members for faithful adherence to the love of God and God's teachings about how to live that love.  Betrayal will continue to come to us in all kinds of ways, and so does temptation.  Our job is not to exterminate temptations and betrayals from the world, for this task is impossible.  Rather, Christ shows us the way:  our task is faith and fidelity.  We look to our own loyalty and love of Christ, to the things He teaches us, to carry our own crosses as He's taught, and to do so with the one greatest weapon we have:  humility.  In this is the world saved, and not in endless efforts to eradicate all potentials for evil -- for by our own example and acts of love and faith we create potential for the good to spring up out of it, possibilities of the fruits of the Spirit with which we build up God's people and life in this world in potentials for good that supersede all those for evil.  In fact, the Cross itself teaches just that:  that the good may transfigure acts of harm and evil in this world, producing Resurrection and eternal life and all of life's possibilities even from the most heinous and monstrous of evil acts.  Let us consider, then, the power of the Cross and what it teaches us:  that life must spring forth through faith even out of evil circumstances we're given, and continue in that faith.  Christ and His saints know our suffering, for they've all been there before us.  Let us find their way to contribute to the love of the world.




Friday, December 14, 2018

This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me


When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.  But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table.  And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"  Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this this thing.

Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the One who serves.  But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

- Luke 22:14-30

Yesterday we read that the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and the captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.  Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed.  And he sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat."  So they said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare?"  And He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will met you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters.  Then you shall say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready."  So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.

When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  My study bible says that the root of Christ's fervent desire for this Passover is the fact that this meal is the occasion for imparting the mysteries of the new covenant to His followers.  This event also inaugurates the great deliverance of humanity from sin through the power of the Cross. 

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  The first cup is the conclusion of the Old Testament Passover meal that Christ eats with His disciples; my study bible points out that this fulfills the Law.  Until the kingdom of God comes means until the Resurrection of Christ -- at that time He will again eat and drink with His disciples (24:43; Acts 10:41).

 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."  Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you."  The Greek word "eucharist" is the root of the word translated as gave thanks.  This word immediately came to refer to both the Liturgy and the sacrament of Holy Communion.  My study bible notes that before the end of the first century, a teaching manuscript called the Didache refers to the celebration of the Liturgy as "the Eucharist."  In AD 150, St. Justin says of Holy Communion, "This food we call 'Eucharist,' of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing [holy baptism] for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ commanded us."  Jesus teaches:  This is My body.    St. Justin writes regarding the Church's acceptance of the truth of Christ's words, "that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from Him is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus."  For many churches, including the both Eastern and Oriental Orthodox and various Western denominations, Christ's words continue to teach a spiritual and sacramental Mystery, and mean that His body and blood are mystically present so that all may partake of Him and participate in His sacrifice.  No other explanation -- either an attempt to rationally define the nature of how this happens or to give it a purely metaphorical significance -- adequately reflects His teaching as repeatedly found in the Scriptures (see John 6:51-66, 1 Corinthians 11).

"But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table.  And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"  Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this this thing.  We note that Judas is also invited to the table for this mystical supper.  Jesus is seeking by all means to save him, and continues to give Judas a chance to repent even at His arrest and following Judas' kiss of betrayal, when Jesus asks him, "Friend, why have you come?" (Matthew 26:50).   My study bible says that Judas' unworthy participation leads to his utter destruction (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-30; compare to Esther 7).

Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.  And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet I am among you as the One who serves."  My study bible calls this a small-minded dispute among the disciples, and says that it is entirely out of place in the context of the mysteries which Christ has just revealed.  He corrects the disciples first by comparing them to the power-hungry Gentiles, whom they themselves consider to be an abomination.  Then He contrasts them to Himself, who serves all even though He is Lord of all.

"But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials.  And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."  My study bible quotes St. Ambrose of Milan, who writes, "Christ judges by discerning the heart, and not by examining deeds.  So also the apostles are being shaped to exercise spiritual judgment concerning faith, and in rebuking error with virtue."  My study bible adds that the apostles will judge not with earthly judgment, but by the witness of their own lives.   Since, as indicated in verse 16,  God's kingdom begins with Resurrection of Christ, the authority of judgment has already been given to the apostles and their successors in the journey of the Church on earth (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23). 

The concept of Christ's Incarnation is bound up with the mystery of the Eucharist, and inescapable for us.  He tells us, "This is My body which is given for you," and "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you."  There are at least two things which spring up at us from Christ's words.  The first is His solemn declaration regarding His body and blood in the broken bread and in the cup.  This is a specific declaration, a reference that is vivid and made so that we will remember it.  Secondly, He is declaring that His body is given for us, and His blood is shed for us.  Not only does this imply that His death on the Cross makes Him our Passover, sacrificed once and for all time for us.  It also gives us the understanding that by partaking of this mystical Eucharist, this giving thanks for what He has done for us, we also are to participate in that sacrifice.  He teaches elsewhere that we, too, are each to take up our crosses and follow Him (see Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27).   Moreover, John's Gospel makes this participation even more explicit, and Jesus' language ties this participation to the wine of the Eucharist in the metaphor of the vine and branches, when He teaches His disciples, "Abide in Me" (John 15:1-8).  Our very lives, and all that we are as beings in this world, is tied up in our faith.  Like Christ, we also devote whatever we are and have to this Kingdom, and consecrate that sacramentally by participation in the Eucharist.  We do not separate our creation into components, but understand that body, soul, mind, and spirit are one.  It is a way of declaring that we are to follow Him, to be like Him, to take up our own crosses daily and follow in His footsteps, whatever way that means in our personal lives.  He is the firstfruit, and we follow as those who bear fruit, as He explicitly indicates in this passage cited in John's Gospel.  This is why the Eucharist is at the center of our faith, and was so from the beginning.  As such, and especially at this time of the year when we enter into festivities marking Christ's Nativity, let us consider in particular the meaning of the word Eucharist, that its root is the Greek word for giving thanks.  St. Paul writes, "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).  Many have remarked that giving thanks itself is a form of worship.  It invites us to "remember God."  To give thanks is to remember where our Source is, the gift not only of who we are, but also of every element of what it means to be a person:  from spirit and soul to body and blood.  Our giving thanks via the Eucharist not only allows and enables us to remember Christ, but it give us communion with Him.  Through the Eucharist, we remember His Incarnation and we may participate in His very life with Him, becoming also servants and members of this Kingdom with Him.  He is the firstfruit, and we become also part of this vine, branches, and fruit.  Therefore this reading comes at the very time of the year when we must consider how gratitude is part of our wholeness.  We are not disjointed beings, stretched between body and blood on the one side, our capacity for abstract reasoning on another, mystical connection to God at yet another, and the soul another point on in a scattered and disjointed plane of identity.  Christ offers us just the opposite:  this central, unifying cup that gives us purpose and function, that gathers all that we are and even all that we may be or become into this ground of being which includes the fullness of His Incarnation:  both divine and human, eternal and temporal, limited yet infinite, the One who was both crucified and resurrected, the Lamb who was slain and yet stands on the throne of the kingdom of heaven (Revelation 5:6).  This is the slain Lamb who conquers, who is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14), and with whom we are raised at the last day (John 6:39-40).  All of this is contained in the Eucharist, as our partaking of it contains the promises of the crucified and risen Christ, the Lamb slain who yet rules.  He invites us to participate in His life and its fullness, and to abide in Him.  The Eucharist is the way that He has given us to do this; let us not minimize all that it is, and promises to us.




Thursday, December 13, 2018

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover


 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.  And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and the captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed.  And he sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat."  So they said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare?"  And He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will met you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters.  Then you shall say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready."  So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.

- Luke 22:1-13

In Tuesday's reading, after Jesus' long discourse on the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem and His second coming, 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.

 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.   My study bible explains that the Passover (Pascha/Πάσχα in the Greek) is the celebration of the destruction of the firstborn of Egypt and the deliverance of God's people from bondage (Exodus 12:14).  In remembrance of this event, the Jews would slaughter an unblemished lamb to be eaten with unleavened bread.   It notes that this is a prefiguration of Christ's Passion, in which the only-begotten Son of God is slain in order to deliver His people from their bondage to sin and death, and then is raised to lead them into the eternal Kingdom.  In the West, this event is commemorated as Easter, known in the East as Pascha (the primary term referring to the death and Resurrection of Christ).  

And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.  Then Satan entered Judas, surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve.  So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and the captains, how he might betray Him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude.  According to the commentary in my study bible, Satan does not enter a person except by the person's consent.  It explains that the reason Satan chose Judas and none of the others is that Judas had a place for Satan in his heart, while the others did not.  Luke explicitly mentions that Judas was numbered among the twelve, which emphasizes for us the readers the depth of betrayal involved -- and how many are being betrayed.  My study bible comments that this shows us that a religious position is worthless if it is not accompanied by faith and virtue.

Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed.  And he sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat."  So they said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare?"  And He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will met you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters.  Then you shall say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'  Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready."  So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover.  Again, my study bible comments on the term Passover here.   "Passover" can refer to the original event of the ancient Jews, the celebration of that event, the food that is eaten, or the lamb that is slain.  According to patristic commentary, Peter represents zeal and John represents spiritual understanding, the two virtues with which we are to partake of Christ's supper.

It is interesting to note the careful, explicit preparations and instructions given by Christ for His Passover Supper (at which the Eucharist will be instituted), underscoring the importance and significance of this time.  The other time we read of such detailed instruction before an event is in the preparation for the Triumphal Entry (see this reading).  As such, they suggest what is called in Greek kairos/καιρος, a significant time, an "acceptable time to the Lord" (2 Corinthians 6:2), a moment when our worldly time is specifically intersected by a divine event.  The entrance of the Messiah/Bridegroom into Jerusalem is one such event, the Passover/Passion and momentous sacrifice of Christ, made once for all of history and all the world, and memorialized and re-enacted forever via the Eucharist, is another.   It is an indication of a time of fulfillment.  Like the birth of Christ, the divine interrupts human history to reveal an essential truth.  It's important to consider Pascha/Passover/Easter and its meaning for us.  Christ fulfills the Passover with Himself as the Passover, the Lamb slaughtered once and for all, and for deliverance of all of the world (John 3:16).  This moment is one of transfiguration, one that changes meanings and values, by revealing what is at the center of history for all of us who call ourselves faithful to Christ.  It's important to understand the notion of sacrifice and its purpose.  In John's Gospel, Jesus says, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24).   Jesus is the "firstborn" who offers Himself so that the "firstfruits" may be revealed, with Himself first of all (Revelation 14:4).  Jesus feeds us with us His Body and Blood, to produce something new in us and among us.  This is a purpose of transfiguration, for the whole world, and we don't yet know its fullness, but we are in the midst of its effects, which we see only partially.  St. Paul writes, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).  What we must understand is that the purpose of sacrifice is just what Jesus describes when He speaks of His own sacrifice:  it is for fruition.  It is so that we may grow and produce fruits unseen and unknown, incalculable in their fullness -- and through time.  Faith is just as Christ describes His sacrifice:  it is planting seeds for growth and harvest.  It's no accident that the parable of the The Sower is the first He gives, and that the parables of wheat and harvest, even of weeds which mimic the good wheat, all form the notable foundation of His preaching and use of parables (see Matthew 13).  What sounds to us like something grim is in fact nothing of the sort.  Sacrifice is the work of an infinite God of goodness, meant so that we may harvest an incalculable -- even eternal -- abundance.  This sense of sacrifice cannot fit into notions of payment:  there is no way we could possibly pay for the gifts we're given, and they are given freely, as the prerogative of an unlimited God.  Payment is a far too confined concept to understand this process and how our lives work together with God's grace.  Let us consider that when we sacrifice for our faith, we are following in the footsteps of the Firstborn, the One who shows us the way.  Do you take time out for prayer?  Do you make a priority for your faith before other things?   Is there a time for gratitude rather than the constant pursuit of worldly goals?  These are just some examples of that kind of sacrifice:  what we give our time and effort for, what we put first before we rush toward something else.  Let us remember the purpose He gives us.  On that notion hinges so much of what we are capable of doing with the gift of our lives.