Saturday, July 22, 2017

Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother


 And they went into a house.  Then the multitude came together again, so much that they could not so much as eat bread.  But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind."  And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebub," and, "By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons."   So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables:  "How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.  No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  And then he will plunder his house. 

"Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation" -- because they said, "He has an unclean spirit."

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him.  And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You."  But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?"  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."

- Mark 3:19b-35

Yesterday we read that after the Pharisees began to plot with the Herodians against Him,  Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.  And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God."  But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.  And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:  Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, "Sons of Thunder"; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.

And they went into a house.  Then the multitude came together again, so much that they could not so much as eat bread.  But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind."   Here is a response to Jesus' fame; it is unseemly, in some sense, to His extended family.  And there is also the hostility of the rulers in Galilee which must alarm them -- and now His ministry is far beyond Galilee, across all communities of the Jews.  For the most part, they cannot understand Him or His ministry (see also John 7:1-9).

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebub," and, "By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons."   So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables:  "How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.  No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.  And then he will plunder his house."  Beelzebub, or Baal, was the prince of "the dung heap" or lord of "the flies," a scathing term used by the Jews for a god worshiped by the Philistines (2 Kings 1:2-16).   Here the scribes call this god the ruler of the demons.  Jesus speaks of individuals and factions fighting one another in a kingdom.  My study bible says that the impossibility of demons fighting against themselves illustrates the irrational pride and envy of the Pharisees in their opposition to Jesus.  We note that until now they Pharisees were plotting with the Herodians (those who support Herod, ruler of Galilee) against Him; now the scribes come from Jerusalem to attack Him.   Christ, as liberator, can bind Satan the "strong man." 

"Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation" -- because they said, "He has an unclean spirit."   Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, my study bible says, is blasphemy against the divine activity of the Spirit.  That is, blasphemy against pure goodness.  To sin against the Son of Man is more easily forgiven because the Jews did not know much about Christ.  But they know the divine activity of the Holy Spirit from the Scriptures.  This will not be forgiven because it comes from a willful hardness of heart, and a refusal to accept God's mercy.    My study bible goes on to say that the Fathers of the Church state clearly that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not an "unforgivable sin," nor does Jesus ever call it "unforgivable."  According to St. John Chrysostom, such blasphemy would be forgiven if a person repented of it.  Jesus makes such a declaration knowing that those who are blaspheming the Spirit are calling pure, divine goodness "evil," and that they are beyond repentance by their own choice.

Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him.  And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You."  But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?"  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."  Jesus' relatives haven't yet understood His identity and mission, according to my study bible.  But more importantly, Christ -- as His ministry is expanding -- is pointing to another type of family, that based on a spiritual unity in obedience to the will of God.  He doesn't condemn His family nor is He putting them down in some sense; rather He is affirming the communion of those who love God.  Here it should be noted also that brother in the traditional usage in the Middle East (and indeed, in Scripture) can refer to a number of extended relations.  Abram called his nephew Lot "brother" (Genesis 14:14); Boaz spoke of Elimelech, his cousin, as his "brother" (Ruth 4:3); and Joab called his cousin Amasa "brother" (1 Kings 20:9).   Since Mary had one child, Jesus, it is assumed here that these brothers are either step-brothers (sons of Joseph from an earlier marriage, as he was an older man when Mary was betrothed to him); or they are cousins.  At the Cross, Jesus commits His mother to the care of John His disciple (John 19:25-27).  This would be unthinkable in their culture if Mary had other children to care for her.   And indeed, such an act itself affirms Jesus' discussion of family as union in spiritual reality.

As Jesus' ministry and fame expands, so does the understanding He gives of what the Kingdom entails.  There are those outside of it, and those inside of it.  Every unity is based upon the will of God, and those who seek to do and live this will.  The active will of God in the world is the Holy Spirit -- the pure, active living mercy of God at work in the Person of the Spirit.  To love the Spirit is to embrace the family that Christ calls us to.  To call the Spirit's work somehow evil is to truly blaspheme against God, to commit a type of sin that is the most serious Jesus will ever name.   His teachings in this regard speak to us of a type of perception it is important to honor, to cultivate, and to understand.  How can we know the active love and mercy of God at work?  It is this to which He calls our attention and asks our focus.  This is the goal for which all of our worship practices orient us.  It is the purpose of constant prayer; indeed, even of studying the Scriptures.  And if we but think about it in the context of today's passage, this is the true goal for which the scribes and Pharisees endlessly study Scripture, and somehow they have missed it.  They call Jesus' work in the world the work of demons.  They claim He heals and casts out demons by the power of Satan, of Beelzebub, the "ruler of the demons."  In their jealousy and envy, their rivalry to Christ, it is they who resemble the world of demons -- their irrationality gives us a clue to that.  There is no logic and no sense to what they say and the accusations they make against Him.  Somehow it is among them that the center cannot hold, so to speak, and truth is nowhere to be found.  They are blind even to the good He is doing.  We go back to His question to them in Thursday's reading, which they refused to answer, but met in stony silence:  "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"   Where is the love of God, the embrace of the work of the Holy Spirit?  It is this question we must constantly ask ourselves in today's world, in which we are bombarded with messages about what is "correct" and what is not.  We can look around ourselves, and in our world, and see what does good and what does evil, what saves life and what kills -- what needlessly divides and makes false accusation only to serve material power.  We must constantly be on our guard about the same deceptions, perhaps magnified in greater strength by the destructive power modern methods of rule allow, such as weapons and telecommunications and the spread of falsehoods upon which people are encouraged to act.  Oh yes, we live in a modern world with the same temptations, perhaps even magnified, but Christ still stands in the middle of it.  He still calls us to the unity of family in the Holy Spirit, in the love of God and seeking to do God's will above all else.  Beyond that, He still calls us, as good servants, to discernment, and to understand of every would-be prophet, any wolf in sheep's clothing, that by their fruits you shall know them.  We are called to be His ever-watchful and alert servants -- and to truly know Whom it is we serve.



Friday, July 21, 2017

The unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God." But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known


 But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.  And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God."  But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:  Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, "Sons of Thunder"; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. 

- Mark 3:7-19a

Yesterday we read that it happened that Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to Him, "Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"  But He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:  how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?"  And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath."  And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  And He said to the man who had the withered hand, "Step forward."  Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"  But they kept silent.  And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. 

But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea.  And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan; and those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him.  So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him.  For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him.  And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, "You are the Son of God."  But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.  Jesus withdrew because the Pharisees and Herodians (of Galilee) are plotting against Him.  We get a taste of His fame, which is now also in Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, all to the south of Galilee.  But also those from Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region north of Galilee, come to Him.  There are so many people crowding round that Jesus must have a boat ready in case He should be crushed by the crowd, as simply touching Him is seen as healing.  Once again, although the authorities are plotting against Him, and He continues to spread His ministry to obviously great public acclaim, it is not the time to reveal His messianic identity; thus He forbids the spirits to speak.

And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted.  And they came to Him.  Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons:  Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, "Sons of Thunder"; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.   We get a sense of the unfolding of Jesus' ministry.  There are so many coming to Him, and His fame has spread throughout the regions of Jewish communities.  He appoints twelve in order to distribute and share His power -- to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.  The names of the disciples aren't the same on all lists in the Gospels, as many people had more than one name.  Judas is always referred to as the one who betrayed Him, reminding us that the Gospels are written with the perspective given after Pentecost. 

Mark's gospel moves very quickly.  It is the shortest of the Gospels.  But it gives us a sense of the important "scenes" of Jesus' ministry, giving us a perspective on its significant events and how it unfolds.  Jesus' fame spreads very quickly.  As hostility to His ministry begins among the authorities, so grows His greater fame, and so spreads the word about Him to all regions of Jewish communities.   It's at this turning point that the twelve are appointed.  It's very significant that Jesus' power is shared, because it gives us a sense of His authority, His central place and divine identity.  It's important to note how Jesus goes about His ministry.  He doesn't wait for others to approve, He doesn't explain His identity as Messiah.  He preaches the Kingdom, as He's been sent to do.  He goes where God the Father has sent Him to go.  He heals and He casts out demons.  He uses His divine power.  But He never explains His messianic identity, and in fact He forbids the unclean spirits from identifying Him.  We've repeatedly discussed, in this blog, the reasons for such secrecy and lack of fanfare about His identity:  the hostility of the leadership, the people's misunderstanding and false expectations of the Messiah as political leader, and the importance of genuine faith that is not coerced in any way.  But Jesus is also teaching us clearly about living the Kingdom, the life of the holy.  He just does it.  He lives it.  He doesn't wait for the world to accept Him first.  He doesn't try to convince everyone He's "right."  He doesn't even explain His actions.  And, at least until the end of His ministry, when the authorities grow hostile in one place, He simply moves forward to the other places He must go.   Understanding will come via faith to those who can accept His ministry.  When accused, He will loyally defend His followers, His disciples and John the Baptist.  And He will stand up for Himself when it comes time to spar with the leadership.  But He makes no prior justification of why His ministry will unfold as it does, and no excuses.  It teaches us a lesson about the life of the Kingdom.  Is there something that needs doing?  Are you called to study Scripture?  Is there an impulse for prayer?  Does God ask you to live a certain way?  Christ is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, but He calls each one of us to also be good servants, to respond as His servants to what is necessary.  He doesn't ask us to wait for the world to accept our beliefs, or to convince everyone else we're "right," nor to expect that everybody will approve.  He calls us to live the life of the Kingdom, as His servants, as His friends, alert for where and how we can simply do so.  There is no great ideological struggle we need to engage in -- but there is a truth at work, the truth of the mercy and love of God, which we seek to serve, for He is the Person who is Truth.  If we are to be like Him, we live like Him, and we serve His truth.  In this way we express His life in the world, and participate in His life as He asks us to.  This is what is truly necessary -- not useless debate and fruitless argument.  Let us be alert and ready and wakeful servants, responding quickly to His call -- and learn from Him.




Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath


 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to Him, "Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"  But He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:  how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?"  And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath."

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  And He said to the man who had the withered hand, "Step forward."  Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"  But they kept silent.  And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.

- Mark 2:23-3:6

Yesterday we read that Jesus went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.  As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.  Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.  And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.  Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins."

 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to Him, "Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"  But He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:  how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?"  And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath."    In Luke's Gospel this is called the second Sabbath after the first, indicating a feast day immediately following the normal Sabbath.  As work is forbidden on the Sabbath, the Pharisees accuse Jesus' disciples of violating the Sabbath.  But Jesus has just spoken (in our previous reading, above) about the new wine that needs new wineskins.  He reminds the Pharisees of David, who ate the showbread and gave some to those who were with him.  In this time of the new covenant, the food which was at one time not lawful for anyone but the priests to eat is now freely given to all by the Lord of the Sabbath

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  And He said to the man who had the withered hand, "Step forward."  Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"  But they kept silent.  And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.  The scribes and Pharisees hold to certain traditions that they had built up around the Law.   Among these traditions, healing was considered work -- and so therefore is not permissible on the Sabbath.  My study bible says that they believed they served God by zealously keeping these peripheral traditions, but their legalism makes them insensitive to God's mercy.  The Herodians are those allied with Herod, ruler of Galilee who serves the Romans.

In yesterday's reading, we observed how Jesus is in some sense more strict than the Law (such as in the Sermon on the Mount, when He spoke elaborating on the statutes against murder, adultery, regarding divorce and also the swearing of oaths, in Matthew ch. 5).  But what is always at work with Christ is love, God's mercy.  When Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath, He is iterating just this very thing -- that it is mercy that is the law of God.  Jesus addresses what human beings need:  healing, food, and the kingdom of God.   The implication here is that man also needs the Sabbath, the nurturing from God and the rest in God the Sabbath entails.  The Law is meant to point to God, to a community at whose center is the worship of a loving God.  But if "legalisms" get in the way of the relationships a loving God mediates, then it is obstructing the establishment of such a community.  As Messiah, Jesus comes as Mediator for all us, teaching us what must be in our hearts, a deeper focus than the externals of the traditions built up around the Law.  Is someone hungry who is right before us?  Does someone need help in our midst?  This is not about focusing on fixing all the problems of the world, but developing a heart that responds to the loving power of God -- and that teaches us we are to be like Christ, God who has manifest as one of us.  We are to find the Holy Spirit and our connection to God's active mercy that is within us, and make an active effort to find where we are too hard-hearted to hear that Spirit and respond.  This is the true work of God we are meant to be doing.  This calls for a kind of alertness, a wakefulness to God that isn't about following a rule (whether that be a particular tradition or a social or politically correct rule), but is rather about responding to living love and mercy, right here and right now.  If, for example, solving problems of world hunger is important to you, don't snub the person who may be sitting in front of you at your own table.  Learn what hospitality is and truly means and demands of you.  The faith traditions we have are those meant to draw us closer to this kind of love, to an active worship through all things.   Christ draws us to be fully alive to all that is within and around us, a living love in action.  It is this law that is supreme above all else, that knows no boundaries and reaches deeply within us.  But are we prepared for its challenges to our assumptions and rules -- and even to our view of ourselves and others?




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New wine must be put into new wineskins


 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.  As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.  Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.  And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.  Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.  No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins."

- Mark 2:13-22

Yesterday we read that, once again, Jesus entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.  Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.  And He preached the word to them.  Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men.  And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was.  So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you."  And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power of earth to forgive sins" -- He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.  As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.  Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.  And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."   Levi is also called Matthew, and is the author of the Gospel of Matthew.   Jewish tax collectors were assigned to specific areas by Roman overlords.  The tax collectors were free to collect extra revenues for their own profit, backed by Roman power and the soldiers who would do their bidding since they represented the state.  They were collaborators with the occupying Romans, committing extortion and fraud against their own people.  All of this, plus their corruption, caused fellow Jews to hate them and to consider them unclean.  That Jesus would be dining with such people and accept a tax collector as a disciple offends the Pharisees.  But Christ's defense is simple.  He goes where the need of the physician is greatest. 

 The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.  Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days."   Fasting practices of the Jews typically included fasting twice a week, on Monday and on Thursday.  (In the early Church, the practice changed to Wednesdays and Fridays, marking the day of Christ's betrayal and the day of Crucifixion.)   There were also public fasts among the Jews which were regularly observed, as well as those which were occasionally proclaimed (2 Chronicles 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Joel 2:15).  Such public fasting was particularly important for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:31-34)  and in times of mourning (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19).  However, the day of the Messiah is a time for a wedding feast of God with God's people, a time of joy and gladness.  Jesus is proclaiming that this day is here, in effect declaring Himself to be the Messiah/Bridegroom, the Christ.  My study bible says that for Christians, fasting is not gloomy but desirable, a bright sadness, for by fasting one gains self-control, and prepares oneself for the Wedding Feast to come.

"No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins."  My study bible says that the old garment and the old wineskins stand for the Old Covenant and the Law, seen as imperfect and temporary.  The new wineskins are the New Covenant and those in Christ.  And in this light, the new wine is the Holy Spirit dwelling in renewed people, who cannot be constrained by the old precepts of the Law.

Sinfulness such as that which is portrayed in today's reading might be a little difficult to understand in a modern perspective.  These tax collectors are those who in some sense have betrayed community.  They do things that the whole community find opprobrious and worthy of scorn. They do things which are seen as betraying of community, and helpful to an occupying enemy.  More than that, they cheat, they extort -- all of which is unrighteous behavior.  Even today, considered in this blunt reality, we may find it hard to imagine how Christ calls these particular sinners to discipleship, and sits at table with them.  We don't read in the text how Matthew (Levi) repents, but repent we know he does, as he becomes a disciple and leaves the tax office behind.  There's another story of a tax collector in the Gospels, that of Zacchaeus, who wasn't just an ordinary tax collector, but rather a chief tax collector.  Christ calls to him and tells him that He must stay in his house that day.  In the story of Zacchaeus, found in Luke's Gospel, we do read of his repentance:  He tells Jesus (when the people complain about him), "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."  This restoration is in keeping with the Law; indeed, Zacchaeus goes further than the Law demands.  But if we are to understand today's reading, we take it in context with that of Zacchaeus, and we remember Jesus' words that He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.  In Matthew's (Levi's) Gospel (chapter 5), Jesus takes the Law one step further, when in the Sermon on the Mount, He elaborates upon and expands the understanding of the statutes against murder, adultery, and those concerning divorce and the swearing of oaths.  But this is part of an overall deepening of our understanding of justice, which the entire chapter seeks to address.  His view may be at once seen as tougher on sin than even the Law allowed, and at the same time more merciful, proclaiming that we must love our enemies.  Perhaps it took a former tax collector to record all of this for us, because the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are here contained in today's reading.  Repentance is a central key, as we are to understand that in the restoration of relationship, in the practice of mercy, there is the opening to change, to an about-face.  This combination of mercy and repentance is the key to the new wine and the new wineskins.  It allows in so many more to the banquet of the Bridegroom and the feast of the reconciliation of the Kingdom:  God with His People.  The key here is the power of God which is present to us in this new wine that needs new wineskins, as my study bible says of the Holy Spirit.  God supersedes the Law, is the purpose of the Law.  If we are to understand the place of these tax collectors in a modern setting, we may think of those who seem to gain the world through actions which are not socially nor politically correct.  Whatever laws we want to erect, whatever concerns of justice we deem appropriate, there is a deeper, stronger, more strict and at once more merciful system that allows in possibilities we otherwise don't consider -- and that is the power of God who is with us, within us, and among us.  That is the strength of the new wine that needs new wineskins to expand with it.  As human beings, we commit sin -- but who we truly are is so much more than our sin, and for this Christ has come into the world as human being, bringing God not just into our midst but even as one of us, so that we may be with Him and become like Him.  How many people understand this great and tremendous gift, and enter into its mystery?  His table is ready for all.





Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven you," or to say, "Arise, take up your bed and walk"?


 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.  Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.  And He preached the word to them.  Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men.  And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was.  So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you."  And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power of earth to forgive sins" -- He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

- Mark 2:1-12

Yesterday, we read that as soon as Jesus and the others had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  But Simon's wife's mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once.  So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her.  And she served them.  At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.  Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place;  and there He prayed.  And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him.  When they found Him, they said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."  But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."  And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.  Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."  However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could not longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.  Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.  And He preached the word to them.  Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men.  And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was.  So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you."  And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power of earth to forgive sins" -- He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"  There are many things we can see in today's reading.  We first notice how the crowd now gathers for Jesus.  As characterizes Mark's gospel, His fame has been "immediate."  All come to Him, and here in Peter's house, their Capernaum headquarters, they are so crowded that no one can even be received into the house.  The desire to see Christ is so great that the friends of this paralytic uncover the roof to get him to Christ.  It is a great symbol for prayer.  What my study bible notes is that one purpose of Christ's coming into the world is to forgive sins.  This is liberation, a freeing of humanity from its bondage.  To forgive sins really is a greater power than physical healing, because -- as the scribes do know -- God alone can forgive sins (as God alone is judge).  In this true perspective, it really is the easier task to grant physical healing.  My study bible says that although Christ is fully God and holds the authority therefore to forgive, He condescends to those gathered and heals this man in order to draw people to God, whom they glorified

One aspect of paralysis in Gospels is its analogy to sin.  Sin is a kind of paralysis in the sense of becoming stuck.  In the brain, one imagines sin as a kind of endless loop -- a pattern of behavior that becomes ingrained.  Whether this can be a form of sin such as exploiting and harming others, the habit of selfishness, or whatever form that sin may take, it is a kind of rut.  It is a limited way of functioning in life, and it is a type of handicap.  To know the greater fullness of what we can be with God's help is to function in fuller levels, to become more "enlightened," to learn flexibility and growth -- all a kind of opposite of what paralysis suggests to us.  Forgiveness itself, as a sign of love, is a great form of flexibility, of growth, and of movement forward.  It indicates "not being stuck."  It means that one has many options open -- an expanded and enhanced sense of what is possible and open to oneself.  Again, we see the contrast with the symbol of paralysis. Perhaps sin is above all a type of ignorance, a way of remaining limited, locking possibilities away from oneself.  Patterns of behavior that are selfish tend to be like this; they are extremely limiting to a person in terms of who they are, who they think they are, and particularly in terms of how they may relate to others -- and especially whether or not they increase their capacity for growth and love and potential in relationships of all sorts.  The four friends who help this paralytic get to Christ tell us a tremendous story of the communion of saints, and the relationships that love can create.  For one who may be "stuck," prayer is perhaps the only answer, reaching to the One who can truly heal, as my study bible indicates about the forgiveness of sins.  In this sense, forgiveness become liberation, a freedom from our paralysis -- but of course, only if we can embrace it, accept it.  In another sense, we can see paralysis as affliction that results from being sinned against and hurt.  The need then for forgiveness becomes one that we must work at ourselves, giving sin to God so that we are healed, even praying for our enemies so that we are not limited by the cruelties or sinful behaviors of others.  If this seems paradoxical, consider that forgiveness is a kind of contract one makes to give up sin ("forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors")  to God, and allow God to negotiate the outcome.  In this is freedom and healing, and growth in love.  As limitation, sin is a kind of paralysis, an affliction we hold onto or not.  As healer, Christ brings a better way, a state of grace, a negotiation, if one may see it that way, in order to free us from our limits and set us apart for His love instead.


Monday, July 17, 2017

For this purpose I have come forth


 Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  But Simon's wife's mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once.  So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her.  And she served them.

At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place;  and there He prayed.  And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him.  When they found Him, they said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."  But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."  And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."  However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could not longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction. 

- Mark 1:29-45

 On Saturday, we read that 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.

 Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  But Simon's wife's mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once.  So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her.  And she served them.   Here we learn that Peter is married, and this family home will become Jesus' ministry headquarters.  This story also appears in Matthew and Luke.  It strikes me that for Christ there is no barrier between the personal and the public; that is, when it comes to healing, each sphere receives His attention.  Healings happen in public in the synagogue, before all the people, and in the public square as well.  They happen when He is traveling and also when He is speaking.  And here, this significant healing takes place in Peter and Andrew's family home.  It gives us a sense that Peter's mother-in-law's place in the home is every bit as significant as the compelling need of any other healing done by Christ.  She is, importantly, restored to her place -- a place of honor to serve, and Christ included -- in the home.  We notice the intimacy of the healing itself; Jesus takes her hand and lifts her up.  Even this display of intimacy is possibly unusual; Jesus is not her blood relative and He is also the Teacher.

At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.  In contrast to the private healing of Simon Peter's mother-in-law, here we have the whole city gathered together at the door of the home.  Everybody seems to be coming to Him for healing.  He heals the diseases and casts out the demons.  But in contrast to this great public display, there is one thing He keeps silent:  His identity as Messiah, the Christ.  My study bible tells us that this need for secrecy is foreseen by Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4).  Instead of declaring who He is, Jesus' ministry itself will teach about the Messiah.  My study bible suggests that reasons for secrecy include (1) the growing hostility of the Jewish leaders; (2) the people's misunderstanding of the Messiah as an earthly, political leader; and (3) the Lord's desire to evoke genuine faith not based solely on marvelous signs.

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place;  and there He prayed.  And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him.  When they found Him, they said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."  But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."  And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.  In going out to pray in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, and departing to a solitary place for prayer, Jesus offers us a clear example of a spiritual life.  Although He's God incarnate, Jesus prays continually.  In the Gospels, He often finds a solitary place in order to be free from distraction, despite the great needs of people who come to Him from all quarters.  His ministry doesn't come in response to the crowds, but rather comes forth from His communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit -- and from there it flows to the people in their needs.  My study bible also tells us that His praying in the morning shows that we must put as first priority our commitment to God.  This is what, in fact, prepares and equips us to serve others.  In His response to Peter, we note His first emphasis on preaching; His first emphasis is in teaching about the Kingdom.

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."  However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could not longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.  The Law concerning leprosy is found in Leviticus 13 and 14Deuteronomy 24:8 describes the purification of lepers and leprous houses.  This was a duty entrusted to the priests.  By tradition, leprosy was considered a direct punishment for sins.  As lepers were unclean, they could not live in community or worship in synagogues or the temple.  Their ostracization was complete.  To touch the unclean also was forbidden, and so Jesus' touch in this healing is an even greater example of a kind of intimacy that breaks all norms.   As the text indicates, Christ shows His compassion this way.  He also shows that He is not subject to the Law bur rather over it.  My study bible says, "To the clean, nothing is unclean."  We note that Jesus doesn't cause undue scandal; He tells the healed leper to show himself to the priest, and make the offering which Moses commanded.  But all this will be a testimony to Christ and His presence and ministry.

Jesus' ministry unfolds in a particular way and for particular purposes.  What we find is that as it does so, He always is teaching.  In every act, He is teaching.  The Gospels, by recording what He does, how He lives, and how He teaches, describes for us the manner in which He conducts His life and ministry, and gives us also a record for teaching how we are to conduct ourselves through all things.  In today's reading, Jesus -- among several other things -- sets the example of going out early in the morning for prayer, by Himself and to a solitary place where He will not be disturbed.  As my study bible says, this is a way not only to begin the day in the right way, but to focus on the central thing which defines how we are to live and teaches us how we are to encounter all things and people that come our way:  we focus on the prime commandment of our relationship to God.  God, who is love, teaches us how to receive life, in turn, and all the circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves in life.  It's also essential for us to see that Jesus is teaching who and what the Messiah is by conducting Himself the way He does.  If we expected a political Messiah who was going to liberate Israel from Roman rule, we might expect the tremendous news of God incarnating as human being to be given to the world with explicit fanfare, unmistakable glory and power, a kind of extraordinary and unmistakable moment of undeniable awe.  But instead, we're given the very human Jesus, who has no place to lay his head -- in a world where even foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests.  The humble suffering servant teaches us what it is to be truly God-like in the world, and to find and seek God above all things.  As my study bible says, His ministry flows out of this basic relationship to the Father, and so we should understand our lives as flowing out of our relationship and participation in the communion of Father, Son, and Spirit -- and the entire communion of saints, the Church that comes out of this.  The ground and root of being for the communion of saints, the whole body of the Church, is simply love.  It must be so:  all glory, honor, might, power, extraordinary miracles and healings, and every gift -- it all comes from this.  This is why there is no distinction in Christ between the healing of Peter's mother-in-law in the privacy of the home to the extraordinary and amazing healing of the leper in defiance of all logic and history and even spiritual understanding of the history of Israel and the Mosaic Law.  And in each case, let us note the intimacy, the touch, the compassion.  This ground of being is the one in which all may participate by virtue of the law of love, and yet so many choose to opt out, because love places its demands on us for what we are and how we live and to whom we have the greatest loyalty.  Its perspective changes our perspective, and this is the plan whereby salvation comes in the Person of Christ and gives us our liberation, the gift of participation in His very life.  Let us learn from Him!



Saturday, July 15, 2017

What is this? What new doctrine is this?


 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, according to St. Mark.  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."  Mark puts emphasis on John being put in prison before Jesus began preaching.  This reveals, my study bible tells us, that a key purpose of the old covenant -- to prepare the people for Christ -- had been completed (Galatians 4:1-5).  Once Christ has come, the time of preparation is fulfilled.  To repent is to do an "about-face," my study bible reminds us.  The word is Greek is metanoia, and it means literally to change one's mind."   Repentance is an ongoing experience, and brings with it "a radical change of one's spirit, mind, thought and heart -- a complete reorientation" to a life that is centered in Christ.

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.  These first disciples, we know, had already heard the preaching of John the Baptist.  Therefore they were prepared to accept Christ immediately when called.  My study bible reminds us that although 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."  And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.  My study bible notes that the word immediately occurs nearly forty times in Mark's Gospel.  Almost all of these occur before Christ's entrance into Jerusalem.  There is a sense of urgency and purpose in this brief Gospel, as Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem to fulfill His mission of redeeming the world.  Mark's Gospel is not only the shortest, but it is also the most direct of all four Gospels.  Here, one more "immediate" effect of Christ is the response of the spirit world, usually hidden from human beings.  His power expressed through authority is astonishing to the people, as commander of the unclean spirit it is amazing and revelatory of His divine nature. 

 In addition to urgency, the repeated use of the word immediately gives us a sense of God's manifestation in the world.  This is not a gradual, slow growth.  It is not something which we're prepared for in small doses.  It's a suddenness.  Although Israel has been prepared throughout its history by the prophets for this moment, each prophet's words have also been startling, amazing, astonishing -- and often greeted with disdain, especially in high places.  That's what prophets do, they shake up the order and the firmly-in-place assumptions and practices that need shaking up.  Christ's appearance -- and this very beginning of His ministry -- comes on suddenly and shakes everything up.  How startling and astonishing is His authority (for He has not studied with a famous rabbi, nor does He teach in anyone else's name).  How incredible is the experience of the appearance of the unclean spirit and the words that come out in the temple about the identity of Jesus, "the Holy One of Israel."  Even more explicitly amazing is Jesus' command of the spirit itself, in full force and with full expediency warning the unclean spirit to "Be quiet!"  And commanding that the spirit "come out of him!"  The manifestation of God is not something fuzzy and wishy-washy and uncertain.  It is quite certain, takes definite form, brooks no compromises in its portrayal.  There is nothing left to guess here.  God manifests in a concrete and particular way, making God's presence known in the world in ways that tell us something.  It's all the gospel, it's all the good news -- it is an announcement of something that is revealed to the world.  God announces God's presence in assertive ways and on no uncertain terms, to teach us something, to give us a message, to let us know what it is that we need to know -- and then to leave us to decide how we're going to respond.  This doesn't work the other way, where we get what we think we're prepared for and ready to hear and accept.  We don't get to wait until we're good and ready.  The announcement is one-sided, the instruments and form and shape of it all is unequivocal.  God manifests as a human being, in this particular place, from the heritage of this spiritual lineage, in order to present to us something.  That is why we read the Gospel -- because this is the story we're given, and it's not up to us to augment or change or fudge the details because somehow we don't quite understand the story or it doesn't fit our expectations.  God presents God in forms we need to accept and accommodate, that are meant to expand what we know and what we can consider and even who we think we are.  Jesus commands the spirit, but God commands our attention.  Let us be amazed and astonished as is only appropriate.  The people ask, "What is this?  What new doctrine is this?"   Surely this is the only way to meet the good news of God's appearance in the world.






Friday, July 14, 2017

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


 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

Yesterday we read that, as the apostles had gathered at Jerusalem and spoke of the encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus among other appearances, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you."  But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.  And He said to them, "Why are you troubled?  And why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.  Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.  But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?"  So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.  And He took it and ate in their presence.  Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me."  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.  Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.  Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high."  And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.  Amen.

 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.'"  Gospel, my study bible says, refers not to the writings of Mark per se, but rather to the whole story of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That is, the good news or good tidings of our salvation.  The word gospel in English is translated from the Greek word εὐαγγελίου, the root of which we can see includes αγγελίο -- "message," the same root of "angel" or "messenger."  The very language tells us something interesting here, because this "good news" is that which is somehow told or announced to us.  It comes from another person (or Person, as the case may be).  Indeed, the Annunciation (to Mary of the "good news" of the child she will bear) is called Ευαγγελισμός in the Greek, another form of the same word translated as gospel.  The beginning here points to these opening events of Jesus' public ministry, starting with the preparation by His forerunner, St. John the Baptist, and his encounter with Christ.  This good news is also tied in with the "announcements" of the prophets of the past, and thereby the whole of Jewish spiritual history, as John quotes from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.  The fulfillment of prophecy is at hand, and John comes to wake the people to this news, and prepare them for Christ's ministry.

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."  As John comes announcing the fulfillment of prophecy within this generation with the coming of the Christ, so he fulfills the role of the greatest prophet of all the Old Testament type prophets.  The very clothes he wears tells us a story as well.  He is clothed in the same manner as Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).  And he himself fulfills prophecy -- that of the return of Elijah before the Christ comes, as Jesus Himself has taught.  We can see John's clear humility in his statements, his reverence for God, his total voluntary poverty for the sake of the kingdom of God.  Moreover, the text observes John's effect upon the people.  As one who is widely recognized as a holy man, he galvanizes the public in this time of crisis as many hope in the coming of a Messiah.  Even all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem go out to him to be baptized in the Jordan in preparation for the coming of the Lord.

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."   John has prepared the people with baptism for repentance and remission of sins for the coming of the Lord.  But the day comes when Jesus goes to John.  This in effect is the day in which the Holy Trinity is revealed.  The Spirit descends upon Christ like a dove, and the Father's voice speaks from heaven to call Him My beloved Son

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.  As He begins His public ministry, Jesus is driven into the wilderness for a period of forty days, in which as One who is both fully human and fully God, He confronts the elements of this world in the midst of the spiritual battle in which human beings are caught.  He is at once  tempted by Satan, with the wild beasts, and ministered to by the angels.  For a fuller picture of these events see Matthew 4:1-10 and Luke 4:1-13.

John the Baptist, with his radical poverty in the lineage of the great prophets of Israel, is essential to salvation history.  Luke tells us that John was chosen before his birth to be the herald and forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:13-17), and that he knew his Lord from the beginning!  John's disciples would form the basic group from Jesus' earliest disciples would be drawn.  My study bible says that John's ministry and brotherhood were characterized by repentance in expectation of the Kingdom, baptism for forgiveness of sins, bearing the fruit of righteousness, and spiritual discipline.  As we observed above, John's signs of radical poverty indicate a tremendous asceticism, and are referred to during Jesus' ministry as well -- especially when Jesus tosses back accusations against both Himself (for being too indulgent) and John (for being too ascetic) to those who fail to recognize the holiness of both ministries.  John, my study bible tells us, lived an ascetic rule of poverty and fasting.  A note says, "His eyes were set not on the body and its desires, but on Christ the Lord, and his influence was widespread."   When Jesus appeared before John, in his great humility John stated that he needed to be baptized by Christ, but Jesus taught that He should be baptized to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).  John's ministry prepared the people to accept Jesus as the Christ (John 5:33-35).  And finally, after Judas was lost through betrayal as a disciple, his place was fulfilled by another who had been John's follower (Acts 1:22).  John's life is an example of total devotion to God and to God's purposes.  His preparation of the people was effective precisely because of that devotion which was apparent to all the people of Israel, even compelling the rulers to come and be baptized in preparation for the Christ.  He teaches us about the essential role each may fulfill in salvation history, coming between the Old and the New Testaments, the last and greatest in line of the old prophets of Israel.  What we understand from his vow of poverty is not asceticism for its own sake, nor great feats of spiritual endurance and heroism, but quite simply and purely the total love of God and therefore service to God's purposes, for which every single other consideration in life was given a second ranking, lower priority.  This is the true way to see his radical gift of humility, his poverty, his total devotion to mission.  We shouldn't forget that it was Christ who deeply and powerfully emphasized that regardless of outward externalities of appearance, "wisdom is justified by all her children."  So should we see all our brothers and sisters in Christ and in the communion of saints.  Jesus and John are more than brothers, despite apparent differences in practice and even seemingly competing ministries of the time.    John teaches us that radical commitment to the love of God is more than all the things of this world put together; it transcends, deepens, galvanizes, motivates, and prepares the world for all the good things God has to bless us with, the Promise of mercy and the Spirit, the truth of Christ.    Imagine the difference one person made.  Finally, as martyr for Christ, he teaches us all. 



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high


 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you."  But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.  And He said to them, "Why are you troubled?  And why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.  Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.  But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?"  So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.  And He took it and ate in their presence.

Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me."  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.  Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.  Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high."

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.  Amen.

- Luke 24:36-53

Yesterday we read that, after hearing the stories of the women from Jesus' empty tomb,  Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.  Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.  And they talked together of all these things which had happened.  So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.  But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.  And He said to them, "What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?"  Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, "Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in those days?"  And He said to them, "What things?"  So they said to Him, "The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.  Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.  Yes, and certain women of our company who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us.  When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.  And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women has said; but Him they did not see."  Then He said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?"  And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.  Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther.  But they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent."  And He went in to stay with them.  Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.  And they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"  So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"  And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.

 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you."  Peace to you is Christ's resurrectional greeting.  It is frequently proclaimed by priest or bishop in worship services.

But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.  And He said to them, "Why are you troubled?  And why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself.  Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.  But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?"  So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.  And He took it and ate in their presence.  My study bible tells us that Christ eats not because He in His resurrected body needs food, but to prove to the disciples that He is truly risen in the flesh.  The spiritual significance assigned to the fish is active virtue -- and the honeycomb is the sweetness of divine wisdom.

Then He said to them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me."  And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.  Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things."  Remission of sins refers to the putting away of sins in baptism, my study bible says.  St. Peter will preach this at Pentecost in Acts 2:38.

"Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high."  If we look at the language in the original Greek, we notice that to be "endued" with power is translated from a word for to "put on" as in putting on clothing.  This same verb is used in Ephesians 6:11, and so the indication here is of the complete protection of spiritual armor.  To tarry or to remain is translated from a word that literally means to "sit down."  It is an instruction not only to stay, my study bible says, but also to take rest, and to prepare attentively before a great and difficult task (compare to Mark 14:32).  The Promise of My Father is the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:4). 

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.  Amen.  The Ascension of Christ is celebrated forty days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3).  My study bible gives us a traditional understanding that this event fulfills the type given by Elijah ascending in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11).  It marks the completion of the glorification of Christ and His lordship over all creation.  A note tells us that at the Incarnation, Christ brought His divine nature to human nature.  In the mystery of the Ascension, Christ brings human nature to the divine Kingdom.  He reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His glorified body, revealing thereby His glorified human nature -- even human flesh -- to be worshiped by the whole angelic realm.  In some icons of the Ascension, the white robes of Christ are tinted red to indicate the shedding of His blood for the redemption of the world, and the ascent of that life-giving blood into heaven (Isaiah 63:1-3; see also Psalm 24:7-10).

Christ manifests Himself again in the flesh.  For forty days from Resurrection to Ascension He makes appearances to His disciples (Acts 1:3).  Luke gives us the proofs of His reality, and ultimately we zero in on the image of the fish and the honeycomb which He eats with them.  My study bible tells us that by tradition, these things are seen symbolically, the fish as a sign of active virtue -- and the honeycomb teaches us the sweetness of divine wisdom.  But these images can be teased out even further.  The fish we know as Christian symbol.  The word for fish in the biblical Greek (ΙΧΘΥΣ) can be seen as an acronym, in Greek forming the phrase "Jesus Christ Son of God Savior."  But fish are also abundant, and we recall that Jesus taught His apostles (brothers Peter and Andrew, and John and James being by trade fishermen) that He would make them fishers of men.  In today's reading, He affirms that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations."  In the fish we are also reminded that Christ's work is ongoing, the abundance of fish in the sea giving us a sense of the infinite numbers of those who form the communion of saints, the fullness of the Church in its timeless horizon.  The honeycomb is formed by bees who work in a kind of marvel of formation, always diligent and active.  In a way, bees themselves suggest angels who work tirelessly for the Church and its members, and who bring the sweetness of wisdom and grace to human beings.  Honey fills a number of uses for us, from antibacterial properties to sweetening to energy, another symbol of God's active mercy at work in the world.  The Promise, the Holy Spirit, will bring the energies of grace to all.  Finally, a honeycomb is made of hexagons, their six-sided shape giving us a number that symbolizes truth -- also a link to wisdom.  These things give us a taste (so to speak) of the fullness of the active and manifesting Church, the Body of Christ.  He is always with us -- and His fullness is with us.  He's made manifest clearly to His disciples, and His presence is fully with us in all the active work we do in faith, in the way we live our lives, in each gesture made in faith to feed the world the food of Christ Himself.  Once again, we are face to face with the spiritual realities of His manifestation through all the things of this world:  nothing is lost or left out.  Each moment of our lives, each little thing that makes up our lives, can be given as sacrament and returned to us filled with the goodness of this abundant gift.  The smallest gesture is a place for grace, each moment possesses His fullness -- and we remember the infinite help present in a prayer or a wish of "peace to you."