Monday, October 23, 2017

Wisdom is justified by her children


 "But to what shall I liken this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:
'We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.'
"For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'  But wisdom is justified by her children."

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:  "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." 

- Matthew 11:16-24

 On Saturday we read that as John the Baptist's disciples departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.  But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:  'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before you.'  Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

 "But to what shall I liken this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:  'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament.'  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'  But wisdom is justified by her children."  Jesus likens the response of the leadership (and the fickleness of the crowds who follow) to a popular children's game.  The children would divide into two groups; one pretending either to play musical instruments or sing, and the other responding in a way opposite of that which would have been expected.  Jesus draws a parallel to the leadership who responded with criticism both of John the Baptist as being too ascetic and to Jesus as being too liberal in mercy and joy.  And yet, as He pointed out in the reading from Saturday, they had all gone out to see John when he preached repentance in the wilderness (see Saturday's reading, above).  That wisdom is justified by her children teaches us once again to look at the fruits of ministry; they justify both John and Jesus, regardless of their different appearance and style.

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:  "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."  My study bible says here that it is a far greater sin to have seen Christ's works and rejected Him than never to have known Him at all.

 In today's reading, we get Jesus' scathing remarks to those who reject ministry and the work of God in the world, and of wisdom.  They are like children playing and taunting, shallow and with no depth nor understanding.  And worse, there are those who have seen great works of power, and yet who still reject the message of the Kingdom.  It is an acknowledgement in the Gospel of rejection, of those who cannot accept what is within their midst.  Certainly Jesus is implicating the leadership, who seem focused only on criticism of surface appearances, and cannot see the substance and truth of what is happening, even if mighty works are done in their cities.  It's an indication of how deep rejection can go in the face of truth staring us in the face.  It's also a teaching to us about the kind of complacency that trusts only in our own self-interest, in our "places at the table."  Jesus touches on such a theme when He speaks scathingly of those in high places:  "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation" (Luke 20:46-47).  It comes down a question of what we put our trust into.  Do we go by the shallow surface of appearances, so easy to criticize and judge?  Or do we judge with good judgment?  Do we reach down into a place where we put our trust in something deeper, something into which our prayer life leads us?  Jesus teaches us to refrain from surface judgments, and not to judge by mere appearance (John 7:24).  In Matthew 7, Jesus has said, "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" (7:1-3).  When judgment of others rests on surface appearances, it too often serves selfish ambition and complacency.  We avoid doing what we ought to be doing, practicing awareness of ourselves and our own state of mind and heart, and insist that we can ascribe motive to others without 'judging good judgment.'  The one way that Jesus teaches over and over to find good judgment is through the fruits of those who come to us as prophets of one thing and another:  "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?" (7:15-16).  In today's reading, Jesus gives us a positive version of these statements when He refers to both John's and His own ministry:  "But wisdom is justified by her children."   He and John bear very little surface resemblance to one another, in many dimensions.  Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners; John is extremely ascetic, dedicated to a life of poverty in his love of God.  But both serve the same wisdom.  Many of my readers may be familiar with the great Byzantine cathedral called Haghia Sophia, or "Holy Wisdom," built in Constantinople in the sixth century and still standing.  In the Greek tradition, "Holy Wisdom" refers to Christ.  That is, the wisdom of the Lord who was at work in the world throughout the Old Testament foreshadowing Christ, and Incarnate as Jesus Christ in the New.  St. Paul also calls Christ "wisdom" (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-24).  In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for wisdom is feminine, and thus given a feminine article and pronoun.   Jesus is teaching us to grasp wisdom, to come to know it, and to know her children, no matter how varied and different they may seem to us.  It is only this way that we can practice "good judgment," to make discernment, and to understand the reality behind what we see.  Too often we are deceived by our own desires, our limited viewpoint, the fear of losing our own place, particularly in the eyes of the world.   It remains essential that we understand, in a world beset by images and bad judgment, and constant criticism tearing down all and sundry without thought, that we know that "wisdom is justified by her children."  This must be a part of our faith, that which we cling to, pray to, and in which we seek to participate in the life of Christ and the communion of saints.  There we begin, and there we find what is truly good for us, and for the world.



Saturday, October 21, 2017

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force


 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.  But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:
'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before you.'
"Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

- Matthew 11:7-15

Yesterday we read that when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples (before their first apostolic mission), He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of is disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."  

As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses."  John's disciples have just come to Christ, asking Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  This question has come from John, who is imprisoned in Herod's castle.  A natural reaction to those familiar with the Gospel so far would be to question whether or not John had perhaps changed his mind.  After all, it was John who recognized Jesus as the Christ when Jesus was baptized, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"  (See this reading.)  But Jesus' ministry is not what was expected of the Messiah.  He hasn't publicly declared Himself.  He will cultivate a kind of faith that responds with the heart, and so His response to John was to quote from the prophet Isaiah, and the signs of the time of the coming of the Messiah, which are manifest in Jesus' ministry (see yesterday's reading, above).   Here, Jesus seems to address the crowds and this natural questioning of John's possible change of heart because of the question of John's disciples.  John has not changed his mind at all, but wishes his disciples to be given direction to Christ.  Jesus demands of this crowd to consider what they went out into the wilderness to see when they went to John.  A reed shaken by the wind is a description found in 3 Maccabees of Ptolemy Philopator, a king of Egypt, as he was smitten by the judgment of God for his persecution of the Jews.  Jesus asks them if they thought John was one who would bend with the wind, a person clothed in soft garments and therefore not used to struggle and difficulty.  Jesus says ironically, of John who is imprisoned in a king's house (the palace of Herod Antipas), "Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses."  He is challenging the crowd to know John and to understand him, and He goes on to praise John and establish his place in the story of salvation.

"But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:  'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before you.'  Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."  Jesus affirms that John is a prophet in the lineage of the Old Testament, but he is also even more than a prophet.  He is the forerunner, the messenger who goes before the Christ, fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi.  In the tradition of the Church, these words extend even after death, as John goes before Christ into Hades, to prepare all who have come before.  Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.  He is, as the greatest prophet, the fulfillment of all righteousness of the Law.  But there is something much greater that is now at hand, and within the ministry of Christ -- and that is the presence of the kingdom of heaven.  My study bible says that the New Covenant is of such incomparable value that those who share in it are greater than John was without it. 

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John."  My study bible notes that there have been several interpretations given of this passage.  What does it mean that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and that the violent take it by force?  Some have said that this refers to the Jewish opposition to the gospel.  Others say that it refers to the Kingdom breaking into the world "violently," that is, with great power and force.  Still others have said that the Kingdom of heaven refers to Christ Himself, who has been incarnate since the days of John the Baptist, and who will suffer violence on the Cross.  But St. John Chrysostom writes that the violent who take the Kingdom by force are those who have such earnest desire for Christ that they let nothing stand between themselves and faith in Him.  Jesus seems to imply this when He says that "for all the prophets and the law prophesied until John."   The time of prophecy of the Kingdom has ended with John, the prophet to end all prophets.  At this time the Kingdom is present, manifest, and those who wish to enter in seize it with all their might.   This word for violence in the Greek is used only twice in the New Testament, and both times in a positive sense.

"And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  John does not ascribe to himself the role of Elijah (John 1:21), but Jesus does, my study bible tells us.  John fulfilled the mission of Elijah (Luke 1:17, 76), and his destiny was similar.  (Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return before the Messiah and the coming of the Kingdom; see Malachi 4:5-6.)  Jesus uses the words of the prophets to indicate to the crowd that they need spiritual ears to understand the fulfillment of this prophecy in John. 

It's interesting to see this aspect of Jesus' persona:  strong and vigorous, and vigorously defending John to the crowds.  He appeals to their understanding of John's character, asking them what they went out to see when they all flocked to John in the wilderness (see Matthew 3:4-12).   We hear Jesus in a strong and bold key, claiming something powerful for John, and yet also proclaiming the boldness of those who now enter the Kingdom, with violence and force.  Jesus uses a voice of irony, nearly sarcasm, when He asks them if they went out to see a reed shaken by the wind, or one clothed in soft garments -- and declares that indeed, those who are clothed in soft garments are in king's houses.  It's also a testimony about the rulers of Israel, who seem to blow with every wind, and appease only worldly power.  We hear a Jesus who is neither soft nor a reed blown any way the wind blows.  This is the voice of vigorous defense and clear debate, a voice of bold proclamation and courage in the face of the oppression that has begun by the state and the powers that be, in the face of the imprisonment and soon-to-be death of John the Baptist.  This is Jesus who fully manifests all aspects of what it means to be human, and to use all His human capacity for exhortation and encouragement and a positive force.  He does not come into His Kingdom with an army for physical battle.  He does not call upon God the Father to send Him thousands of angels to force His Kingdom on the world.  But in His mission He also does not shrink from telling the truth, from the boldness of declaring what is what, of colorfully challenging complacency and lack of faith.  This is also the Jesus we're asked to imitate and to remember:  one who praises a positive kind of assertiveness, and the zeal for the Kingdom, the earnest and deep desire that sees and seizes the time when the "kingdom of heaven is at hand."   Spiritual understanding is a real and powerful force; it is not "ethereal."  It is not the stuff of fantasy or dreams.  Its truth is something that shatters every other power, that overturns all human or worldly plans, that permeates all things.  It is the strength and vigor of this reality that Jesus brings and challenges the world to hear, if we have ears to hear, if we can find a way to know and understand this reality He brings, His Kingdom.










Friday, October 20, 2017

Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?


 Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of is disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." 

- Matthew 11:1-6

Throughout chapter 10 of Matthew's gospel, Jesus has chosen the twelve and is preparing them for their first mission.  In yesterday's reading, He told them:  "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.    He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.  He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.  And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of is disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  According to the Church Fathers, John the Baptist asks this question in order to guide his own disciples to Jesus.  My study bible says that undoubtedly, John's own faith was strengthened through the response given by Jesus (in the verses that follow).

Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."  Jesus names the signs predicted by Isaiah which would accompany the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6, 61:1).   Jesus performed these miracles in the presence of John's disciples (Luke 7:20-21), my study bible says, so that they could see with their own eyes works that only the Messiah could do.

John the Baptist's self-stated mission has been to prepare Israel for the coming of the Lord.  He is the one who first made the statement, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (see this reading).   Jesus has repeated it in His ministry (4:12) and also given instruction to the twelve to proclaim it as they go on to their first mission (10:7).  In this sense, we get a clear image of the importance of John the Baptist to this story.  His words echo through Jesus' ministry as they are also part of the work of God in the world, the Holy Spirit working through each mission.  This unfolding also gives us an image that applies to the whole of Scripture, including the Old Testament, as all bears witness to the common work of God in the world, and human beings as laborers in this harvest, as Jesus told His disciples just before He chose the twelve (see this reading).  John is understood by tradition to be the last and the greatest of the Old Testament-type prophets, and so he gives us an idea of continuity, of what it is to 'enter into others' labor' (John 4:38).  He gives us a picture of the communion that goes through all things and people, knows no time limit, and is neither barred by spatial limitations.  The one thing required is human beings whose hearts are open to the mission in their own time and place, and to the grace that is at work through us.  Jesus has given us the prayer called The Lord's Prayer or the Our Father, in which our first petition is "Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  And here is the mission.  This is the truth of John's mission and of Jesus' mission, and it will be the truth of the mission of the apostles upon which they've just been sent out.  We get an idea of our own lives and our place in this cosmic system of salvation when we understand the role that each person plays in the story of the Gospels and throughout the Old Testament.  Each may enter into this mission.  Each may play a role in spreading the message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  It is here and now, present with us.  We simply must "turn around" (repent) to see it, to realize it, to have its reality more deeply planted in us and to carry that Kingdom with us in the world.  This is how we receive it and pay it forward.  John is in prison at the time of the events we read about in today's Gospel passage.  He is shut up in Galilee in the palace of Herod Antipas, and perhaps is prepared to understand that this is where he will die.  He approaches the end of mission, and the one thing necessary is that he direct his disciples to the place they need to be, to the Coming One.  This is the mission for us as well, for Christ is still the Coming One, "The One who is and who was and who is to come" (Revelation 11:17, 16:5).  In the infinitely creative work of the Spirit, we each may play a role in that mission and participate in the life Christ offers, the life of the kingdom of heaven, and bringing it into the world.  This is the here and now, the always-present, the mission into which we, too, may enter into others' labor.  How do you play your role?  Remember that even those who offer a cup of water in the name of a disciple will have their reward (see yesterday's reading, above).  Our mission need not be grand or great by worldly standards nor met with great fanfare; this is a question of how we live our lives and whose judgment we meet within ourselves at all times.    "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."



Thursday, October 19, 2017

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me


 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.    He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.  And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

- Matthew 10:34-42

In our readings in Matthew chapter 10, Jesus is preparing those twelve  He has chosen to send out on the first apostolic mission.  (See readings from Monday and Tuesday.)  In yesterday's reading, He continued:  "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!  Therefore do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."

 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword."   My study bible notes that just before Jesus' most violent death on the Cross, He promised peace to His disciples.  But the existence of evil, it says, necessitates spiritual warfare.  The earth to which Christ came was under the authority of Satan (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4).  Therefore it is essential that Christ wage war against the leader of vice with weapons of virtue (Ephesians 6:11-18).  Another note in a similar passage in Luke reminds us that there are two kinds of peace.  There is a false peace, which is a shallow harmony that results from ignoring issues of truth.  But genuine peace is a reconciliation to God through faith in Christ and surrender to truth.  Genuine peace has division as a byproduct, because not everyone wants truth.  In the fallen world, my study bible says, divisions are necessary for truth to be manifest (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-19).

"For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.'"  This fulfills the prophecy of Micah 7:6, from which Jesus is quoting.  In addition to its literal meaning, which my study bible says has been experienced in the Church since the time of Christ, the picture of the older generation being divided from the younger generation also symbolizes the rejection of the new covenant by followers of the old covenant, as well as the spiritual struggle between our old, sinful state and our renewal in Christ (see Ephesians 4:20-24).  It is a picture of spiritual struggle in many dimensions.

"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.   He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."   Jesus Himself is the fulcrum, the central figure around which all else gathers meaning and relationship (12:30).  He boldly places Himself as Son in this position, and teaches what it is to be a disciple.

"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.  He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.  And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.  And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."  Here is another extension of meaning which is given through relationship to Christ.  My study bible says that apostles are ambassadors who represent the Lord.  Therefore, all who extend help to them are showing mercy directly to Christ, and will receive God's reward (see 25:40). 

Jesus' life isn't something we can limit to a set of circumstances or events that happened 2,000 years ago.  Here He quite clearly indicates that the life that is in Him, and that which commands discipleship, has an extension and a meaning and a presence that goes far beyond what we normally think of as the life of a person in this world.  Christ Himself becomes that which gives meaning and value and relationship.  His truth ("I am the way, the truth, and the life" - John 14:6) becomes the truth that is the center dividing line between all things and against which all else is measured and given meaning.  Indeed, as the quotation from John indicates, He is that truth.  St. Paul writes, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).  And Jesus is also that Word (John 1:1).  His Person, His presence, fills things with meaning and gives us a dividing line between all things, even to the point of our closest relationships.  His call is for a loyalty that comes between everything, even piercing to the division of soul and spirit, as St. Paul says, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart.  The power of God's word gives us true relationship and teaches us about both love and peace.  What is love, if it is not measured against the love He teaches us?  Relationships have all kinds of flaws and faults, but it is God who teaches us the measure of our love.  It is the Lord who gives us a sense of how precious are our souls, how beloved we are in God's sight, even when others fail us.  There is a transcendence here that asks of us to see more clearly what is what, and gives to us things the world cannot give.  We are asked to align ourselves with that love and with that presence, to live and dwell in it, to participate in it.  It extends its meanings and values to us, illuminating everything else, and extending itself to our deepest relationships which stand or fall depending on that reflection.  Do we have love?  Do we need His truth a little more deeply?  Where do our loyalties lie -- and where is our peace to be found?  This is what it is to take up His cross and follow Him.  We understand our lives by His light.  We shed that light upon others.  To reject or accept is to know what choice is, and where division lies.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell


 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!  Therefore do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."

- Matthew 10:24-33

In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued speaking to the twelve, just as He was sending them out on their first apostolic mission:   "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.  For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.  Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.  For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

 "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!  Therefore do not fear them.  For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops."  Jesus has just finished telling them that they must conduct themselves in a wise way, and be prudent and humble.  He has warned them about persecution that will come.  (See yesterday's reading, above.  But His conclusion regarding the persecution that they will face, just as He has faced it:   "Therefore do not fear them."  In the following verses, do not fear is repeated three times.  They are prepared for bold witness in the face of adversity.  Prudence and wisdom do not come from fear, but faith.  My study bible says that Christian believers, both then and today, must neither be intimidated by persecution nor fail in their mission to preach.  The entire gospel of Christ is a revelation of the reality of the  Kingdom.  The very nature of what they do is to reveal truth.

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?  And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."  My study bible says that the fact that there is no need to fear the killing of the soul shows the immortality of the human soul, which is our be grace.  Fear Him is a command to fear God (Proverbs 9:10; Luke 1:50, 23:50; Acts 10:2; Colossians 3:22; 1 Peter 2:17), because only God has the power to judge the soul.  Christians are instructed to resist the devil (James 4:7), but not to fear him.  Hell here is translated from "Gehenna."  In Jewish history, Gehenna (which was the Valley of Hinnom) became a place of forbidden religious practices (2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 32:35).  By Christ's time, my study bible says, the valley had become a garbage dump that smoldered ceaselessly.  Because of these associations, Gehenna acquired the connotation of eternal punishment in the afterlife.

"Gehenna" gives us an image of hell:  in Jesus' time it was a smoldering garbage dump, in ancient times a place of horrible practices, such as burning children alive in sacrifice, an abomination to God.  If we think of the analogy of a ceaselessly smoldering garbage dump, we get a picture of a place in which that which must be left behind or discarded as worthless is burned, and in particular that which stands in the way of union with God.  But, if we can receive it, the flames of hell are the flames of the energies of God, burning away what cannot stand in those flames and the fullness of the light of God.  And in the image of the light and the flame of God's love, we get a context for Jesus' preaching to the apostles about their bold witness even in the face of persecutions.  He has been accused of casting out demons by the ruler of demons (see this reading), and so tells the disciples that if this has been said of Him, the Master, how much more will be said of those who are of His household!  But fear has only one place in them:  it is God who must be feared alone.  In a strange sense, today's reading with its image of hell teaches us about the hell that is on earth, into which they are courageously to go to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. In the world, the One who has come to liberate is persecuted, even claimed to be one who works with the ruler of demons.   The mention of Gehenna sends into the text a message about those who are faithless to God, the practices of evil.  Later on Jesus will teach that the one sin that will stand is to call the work of the Spirit evil (Matthew 12:31-32).  Where the holy is called evil is a vision of hell.  Jesus is calling for His disciples to turn such a "hell" upside down, to boldly preach the revelation of the Kingdom in the world, in the name of the only One who is to be feared.  Persecution seeks to place fear into the hearts of the persecuted, but Jesus exhorts His followers only to fear God, and to reveal that which is given them to reveal.  "For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops."  Into the valley of fear, they are not to fear the world, but God alone.  The One whom they serve knows each sparrow, and the number of each hair on their heads.  Therefore they are precious members of this Kingdom, and must remember that in mission.  It's an orientation to the world that He gives them, one in which they are to be wise and prudent, to conduct themselves humbly, to have awareness of  their own weaknesses, but to fear only God.  Jesus lays it out very plainly:  "Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."    We have a choice to make:  we can walk into the worldly hell and bear witness to the kingdom of heaven with our lives, or we can cower in fear of the world instead and betray our own souls.  We choose which master we serve (6:24).  His apostles are those sent out to bring the good news to the world.  Which mission do you choose to live in your life in this world?


  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves


 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.  For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.  Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.  For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

- Matthew 10:16-23

Yesterday we read that Jesus sent out His chosen twelve and commanded them, saying:  "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  Provide neither gold nor copper in your moneybelts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.  Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.  But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."  My study bible says that Jesus instructs the disciples to be wise as serpents so that they might not be unnecessarily wounded and that they might see all true opportunity in the spread of the gospel.  To be as harmless as doves is to not retaliate against those who do them wrong, and be blameless in their witness of the gospel.

"But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.  For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."  Jesus warns the apostles (as they are being sent on their first mission) in a way that speaks to all subsequent missionary work.  He warns about why they need to be shrewd (wise as serpents).  They will face persecution, and also testify to the Gentiles, who rule as governors and kings.  It's quite important to note the words here:  it is "the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."  This is the Holy Spirit, who "proceeds from the Father" and who together "with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified."

"Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.  But he who endures to the end will be saved."  Here we are given the levels of persecution that will be experienced, even brother delivering brother to death, and a father his child, or children their parents.  We should not be surprised at what history will reveal.  But the important word here is endurance; He wishes for His disciples to endure to the end.

"When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.  For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."  My study bible notes here that persecution must not cause a disciple to quit, but merely to move forward in one's mission.  According to St. John Chrysostom, before the Son of Man comes isn't a reference to the Second Coming.  But it merely means that before the disciples could visit all the cities in Palestine, Christ would rejoin them, and thereby more quickly ending the hostility they would encounter.

Jesus tells His disciples to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves."  He warns them that they are being sent out by Him "as sheep in the midst of wolves."  We may think that in our daily lives such dire warnings and advice is not applicable.  But one might be surprised how this advice stands us in good stead.  To be faithful to Christ may often mean we're at odds with those around us in one way and another.  Our opinions may differ; we may disagree about how to approach a problem, or how we treat others.  Whatever it is, these words still hold true.  To be as "wise as serpents" is an interesting phrase.  In this case, the word for "wise" indicates a type of forbearance.  It means to be prudent, to measure one's actions before taking them, to be reticent in some sense, not impulsive.  The word for "serpents" is exactly what one would expect it to be.  Usually this is used in a negative sense, to indicate the devil or Satan.  But Jesus doesn't speak of evil here; He's telling His own disciples that they need to be equally savvy about their circumstances, not naive.  We are to be the intelligent, rational sheep, and to know what we are about.   The word for "harmless" (in the phrase "harmless as doves") means simple, unmixed, sincere.  We can't go into things with mixed motives or hidden agendas, for these surely will simply be used against us.  This is another kind of caution about the need for self-knowledge, and the rigorous application and practice of repentance, of being aware of our own flaws or weaknesses.  Thinking about the terms that Jesus uses, and His included warnings about dire persecutions to come, takes us into an understanding that His faith isn't for those who wish for an easy life, or to live in a kind of abstract fantasy.  Rather, it's a faith that asks of us a rigorous understanding of reality, of precisely what is and what isn't, where we can go and where we can't -- and a strong self-awareness and discipline that serve the Kingdom and its message.  This isn't a faith for those who live in denial of the problems of the world, but rather for those who believe precisely because its salvific impact is so precious and necessary, as is its message of love.  We must note also the type of salvation that is implied here:  human beings are capable of bearing even the Spirit of the Father and the words given by the Spirit as testimony.  Salvation isn't merely an abstract notion, but works even to illuminate the nature of human beings, and teach us what we are capable of being and becoming.  The discipline implied here is for all who will follow, in communion and individually.  The commitment necessary is another kind of comment on the rigors and transcendence such "rational sheep" are capable of.  We think of those whom He's sending out, practically none of whom have particularly exalted education or social standing.  But what is asked of them is deep and powerful.  What is promised elevates all of us.  We are each invited to participate in this Kingdom and this ongoing work of the harvest.











Monday, October 16, 2017

When you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you


 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:  "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  Provide neither gold nor copper in your moneybelts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.  Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.  But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"

- Matthew 10:5-15

On Saturday we read that Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."  And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:  first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.

 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:  "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house Israel.  But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  Provide neither gold nor copper in your moneybelts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food."  The disciples' mission is similar to Christ's mission.  They are to preach and to heal.  These are laborers for the harvest (see Saturday's reading, above) with whom He shares His power and mission.  My study bible notes that Jesus sends them only to the Jews.  Jesus' earthly ministry was focused on the Jews (15:24) as this is fitting "to fulfill all righteousness" (3:15).  After the Resurrection, the disciples won't be blamed for going "to uncircumcised men" (Acts 11:3).   Jesus prepares His apostles to be single-minded in their mission to preach and to heal, my study bible says.  He reminds them that His power is free; that it is a gift from God ("Freely you have received; freely give").   He also instructs them to carry no money, so they won't be accused of greed, and so they will learn dependence upon God.   The primary character of this mission is humility.  To bring the kingdom of heaven near is also to live righteousness.

"Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it.  But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you."  This same greeting of peace that is commanded by Christ of His servants is the same peace proclaimed by the prophets (Isaiah 52:7).  It is the same peace later offered to the disciples (John 14:27; 20:19), and that will be revealed as the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  And today, Christ's peace is offered in the celebration of the liturgy with the words, "Peace be to all."

"And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!"   The rebuke of the disciples to those who do not wish to hear or receive them is simply to shake off the dust from their feet.  Jesus' words about Judgment and righteousness give us an idea of how this power works.   St. Paul's teaching on kindness to enemies is illumined here (Romans 12:20-21; see also Proverbs 25:21-22).

What does it mean to live righteousness?  Or to proclaim that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand"?  The text clearly tells us that Jesus shares His power with the disciples to cleanse and to heal and to cast out demons.  But this power alone is not enough.  They are to go with humility. Whatever home first receives them, they are to stay there and not "trade up" for better lodgings.  They don't impress anyone with outward show of wealth or might.  There is no military accompanying this mission to declare the presence of this Kingdom.  They have lived with Christ throughout His mission so far; now they are to go out and live what they have learned.  They are to be dependent upon God.  We understand with Matthew's Gospel that this is a mission to the Jews of Israel, to seek out those whom Jesus calls "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In Saturday's reading (see above), we read that He had compassion on the multitude, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Here is His response to the needs of the people.  His ministry evolves to meet what comes to Him in the form of need.  That ministry continues today, and should respond to the need that is found in people.  But this need isn't simply for food and drink and clothing.  It is far more than that.  It is a need that is fulfilled through a promise of participation in a Kingdom.  This is also a reality that is within us and among us.  It is a mystical presence, and its character and being is love (1 John 4:8).  It is a mistake to consider that meeting the material needs of human beings alone is the mission of the Messiah, or the ongoing mission of the Church.  There is more to this Kingdom that feeds people in ways necessary for soul and spirit.  There is food that meets us and heals in an interior way that cannot be reached simply with an outward donation, but must be received in the heart.  And this we also offer as part of the Kingdom to others, and it is present with us in a mystical way which can be shared through faith.  All along in the Gospel, Jesus' healings have involved the presence of faith, either in those receiving the healing or their loved ones and friends.  Too often we wish to abstract the reality of this presence of the Kingdom, and assume that it is present only in its signs.  The things we do because we are motivated by faith in it do not constitute the whole of its root nor its power.  Let us recall that we are a part of something that serves us with love as we in turn serve by practicing love.  There is a power in it we can't name nor quantify.  We can't predict how it will work.  And, as today's reading reminds us, there is also a peace in it.  This is a peace Jesus will say is given to us "not as the world gives" (John 14:27).  This is accompanied by a joy that is also a gift of Christ (John 15:11).   When we decide that we can limit and name the whole of the power of this Kingdom, to make it purely material or simply what we can see, we fail to grasp its infinite ongoing creativity and the ways that it can work within us to heal ailments no one can see.  Let us consider the reality of the Kingdom in which we are invited to participate and which can live and grow in us and through us.  It is also a great mystery that holds the infinite promise of God's love.







Saturday, October 14, 2017

When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd


 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.

But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:  first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. 

- Matthew 9:35-10:4

Yesterday we read that two blind men followed Jesus, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!"  And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"  They said to Him, "Yes, Lord."  Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you."  And their eyes were opened.  And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, "See that no one knows it."  But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.  As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed.  And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke.  And the multitudes marveled, saying, "It was never seen like this in Israel!"  But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the ruler of demons."

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  It's interesting to note Jesus' behavior, and the shape of His ministry.  He has just been accused by the Pharisees of exorcism (and subsequent healing) by the power of demons.  In this instance, rather than acknowledging or responding to their accusations, the text tells us that He simply went about to all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease.  This is His response, to assert the reality of the presence of the Kingdom by manifesting its promises in Himself and His ministry.  He lives what He is here to do and to be:   teaching, preaching, and healing.

But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."  My study bible notes here that Jesus does not condemn sinners.  Rather, He sees them as lost sheep who are to be found and brought home.  Compassion, it says, means "suffering with."  The illustration of sheep having no shepherd is drawn from the Old Testament (Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Ezekiel 34:5).  This is an accusation against the religious leadership who are charged with the duty of shepherds, but have behaved like wolves.  When Jesus prays about the harvest, it suggests to us the clear abundance of people ready to accept the Kingdom.  He is both the Sower and the Lord of the harvest, my study bible tells us.  His own disciples are not sent to sow, but rather to reap what He, as Lord, had already sown by the prophets.  My study bible says that how many are sent to the harvest is less important than with what power they go into the harvest (see the verse that follows).

And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.  Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:  first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.   Jesus responds to the needs He finds in ministry, and "sends out laborers into His harvest."  The words disciples and apostles are frequently used interchangeably for the twelve.  The word disciple means "learner."  An apostle is one who is "sent out."  Jesus shares His power with His laborers, investing it in them to carry out this work.  He gives them power, while the works done by Him were performed by His own power.  The names of the twelve vary in different lists, as many people had more than one name.  The names here in Matthew's Gospel are given in pairs, perhaps suggesting which individuals traveled with one another on this first missionary journey.  Mark reports that they were sent out two by two (Mark 6:7).

In yesterday's reading, we read that the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons (exorcism), and hence healing,  by the power of demons.  But here in today's reading, we see in response the continual expansion of Jesus' mission.  He teaches in the synagogues, preaches the gospel of the Kingdom, and heals sickness and disease.  He lives the work He is here to do, the ministry He is meant to live.  He is Messiah not by declaration or proclamation or the formal recognition, but rather simply by fulfilling the role that is His:  preaching, teaching, healing.  He proclaims the Kingdom in all of these ways.  But something even more astonishing is happening in the spread of this ministry.  He who heals and performs miraculous signs by His own power has chosen twelve with whom He will share and thus further distribute that power.  This is the harvest:  those who go out to find the sheep and bring them to their shepherd.  Let us note how this comes about:  Jesus is moved with compassion for the multitudes, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Modern human beings don't like to think of themselves as sheep, moreover as sheep having no shepherd.  We tend to be conditioned to think of ourselves as our own masters, autonomous, independently making our way and deciding what we believe and follow.  Jesus uses sheep as a metaphor to teach us that, in fact, we're not all-knowing.  When we make choices, we don't necessarily have all the information we need in order to know what a good choice is.  Adulthood, and much experience, should teach us that, if we are paying attention.  Responsibilities come with choices which we are often ill-prepared to make with full assurance.  We can't peer into the future.  What sounds like a fantastic idea easily turns out to be a foolish one.  Life is not simply a place where good planning fixes all ills.  Rather, it's a continual learning curve.   We hopefully learn from mistakes, but there is always something new to learn.  To consider oneself a rational sheep is to put into perspective the fact that we will always need a kind of guidance in life.  We are those who learn and absorb from what is around us -- but we need to find the soft place to fall, the true guidance that stands us in good stead, a kind of wisdom that can lead and teach and heal.  When we recognize who we are and what our needs are, then we can come to terms with our need for this Shepherd.  We are not absolute autonomous beings possessing infinite wisdom.  Rather, we are dependent upon so many things.  Our societies are not made of isolated individuals with no connection with one another; rather we depend upon relationships and we need to choose wisely how to navigate them, and how to choose whom we follow and with whom we partner and associate.  To consider oneself a rational sheep is to know that good leadership is essential for all of us, and that discernment rests upon good teaching in the first place.  In this sense, we turn to Christ.  He is wisdom; and as Lord, He has sent the prophets beforehand to teach.  As Lord, He establishes His Kingdom to show us the way, to offer us a place in which to dwell that paradoxically dwells within us and among us. This place, the Kingdom He proclaims, teaches us what love is and gives us love's guidance for a good life and true community when we live it.  If God is love, then this is the Shepherd we seek, who offers us love in action as leadership.  But first we need to understand what and who we are, so that we know what and Who we need.  When we find ourselves to be weary and scattered, let us consider the place to which we need to turn.





Friday, October 13, 2017

It was never seen like this in Israel!


 When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!"  And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"  They said to Him, "Yes, Lord."  Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you."  And their eyes were opened.  And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, "See that no one knows it."  But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.

As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed.  And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke.  And the multitudes marveled, saying, "It was never seen like this in Israel!"  But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the ruler of demons." 

- Matthew 9:27-34

Yesterday we read that a ruler of the synagogue came and worshiped Jesus, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live."  So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples.  And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well."  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well."  And the woman was made well from that hour.  When Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, "Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  And the report of this went out into all that land.

 When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!"  And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"  They said to Him, "Yes, Lord."  Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you."  And their eyes were opened.  And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, "See that no one knows it."  But when they had departed, they spread the news about Him in all that country.  When we read Matthew's Gospel, we must understand its orientation toward Jews; that is, it is written as if intended for a Jewish audience.  In this light, we look to Isaiah.  According to Isaiah, the messianic age is signified when "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear" (Isaiah 35:5).  My study bible tells us that these healings are a sign that Jesus is the awaited Messiah, as is the use of the title Son of David by the blind men, who express their faith in this truth.  That they go into the house shows us that Jesus, at this point in His ministry, does not want this revealed but nevertheless heals based on the faith of the blind.

As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed.  And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke.  And the multitudes marveled, saying, "It was never seen like this in Israel!"  But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the ruler of demons."   This charge will be repeated in Matthew's Gospel, and Jesus will refute it (see Matthew 12:24-30).  To cast out demons by the ruler of demons is not possible.  The aim of the devil, as Jesus will later express in chapter 12,  is to consolidate power, not destroy it.  Furthermore, Jesus has cleansed lepers, raised the dead, and remitted sins.  These are works that demons could not perform.

Today's verses tell us a story about the Messiah, in the fulfillment of prophesy.  Jesus fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah who explicitly gives conditions which will mark the time of the Messiah.  But there is a lot more here to take note of.  To give sight to the blind is a great metaphor for "light" in all its meanings -- the spiritual light of showing what is what, of exposing what's false, and giving people the freedom to truly see.  It's important that, like all the other healing stories we've read so far in Matthew's Gospel,  this comes with faith.  Jesus' one question to these blind men is, ""Do you believe that I am able to do this?"  They respond to Him affirmatively, and call Him "Lord," another reference to the Messiah and the Davidic lineage of the Messiah.  Jesus heals by touch once again, and tells them, "According to your faith let it be to you."  Then the text tells us that "their eyes were opened," another metaphor for true sight, spiritual perception, the understanding of truth and the lifting of lies.  Jesus' next healing is that of a mute, whose lack of speech is due to demonic possession.  We can infer clearly what the demonic does here, which is always destructive.  In this case, this man is unable to express himself, He's fettered and muzzled, kept a kind of prisoner in his inability to speak.  The restoration of his speech is a parallel to Jesus' identity as redeemer and liberator, who "sets the captives free," also as declared by Isaiah.  Finally come the charges from the Pharisees, that Jesus casts out demons by the power of the ruler of the demons.  Jesus makes no reply to them at this time.  His ministry is still revealing His identity through its signs and the things He does, but He does not openly declare Himself.  The introduction of accusations of sorcery brings us into a new territory, where people are going to have to make a choice, and where faith will play a decisive role.  Jesus has already warned His followers, in the Sermon on the Mount, to be aware of "wolves in sheep's clothing," "false prophets."  But He has said that it is by their fruits that they will know them.  (See Matthew 7:15-20).  Jesus lives up to His own standard, producing fruits that teach us about Him and His identity.  The question becomes, therefore, who is able to discern, to read the fruits of the tree?  We come to a moment where the conflict between the religious leadership and Jesus is ready to split wide open, and where competing claims will assert themselves.  Jesus will elaborate in later passages on such accusations, saying that blasphemy against the Spirit is the one claim that will stand to be answered for.  In that context, He will repeat what He's said about the fruits of the tree (see Matthew 12:31-33).  But Jesus' ministry teaches us that the ways the Spirit works is to unfold truth through signs, through "fruits" that are produced, and these "fruits" tell us something.  (See also Galatians 5:22-23.)  It is similar with our own lives.  The fruits that are produced by the choices we make, the things we do, the faith we follow and its internal work, teach us about what road we're on, good or bad.  Jesus allows His ministry to speak for Himself.  He does not wear His holiness on His sleeve, so to speak.  He has railed against the hypocrisy of some of the religious leadership, declaring morality that is for show is just that.  Instead, Jesus lives the truth.   At this point, He even tries to tell those whom He's healed not to speak of the stupendous signs that He is the Messiah.  He sets the example for our lives, practicing what He's preached in the Sermon on the Mount (see this reading).  Jesus' identity as Son and Savior is not proven by the opinions of others.  Rather, He simply lives as the One He is.  The fullness of His life and ministry is in the will of the Father, and the work of Father, Son, and Spirit.  The faith response of others is in the place of the heart of each.  So it should be with our lives.  Let us note that regardless of what we actually do, people can claim all kinds of opinions and accusations about motive and the hidden heart.  Who we are, and what we are, is judged by God, not determined by the opinions of others.  The real question is how we live our faith, and express identity as faithful in the choices we make to live God's will as best we can, most firmly rooted in the depth of "secret" prayer.  Let us endeavor to find the integrity He teaches us, and the strength of grace whereby we may live such a life.




Thursday, October 12, 2017

If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well


 While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live."  So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples.  And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well."  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well."  And the woman was made well from that hour.  When Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, "Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  And the report of this went out into all that land.

- Matthew 9:18-26

Yesterday we read that as Jesus passed on from where He healed the paralytic (and disputed with some scribes), He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.  Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard that, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live."  So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples.  And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well."  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well."  And the woman was made well from that hour.  When Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, "Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  And the report of this went out into all that land.   My study bible notes here that authority over life and death is in the hand of God alone (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6).  Being of one essence with the Father, Jesus has this authority (John 5:21).  The healing of this woman demonstrates Christ's power to clean and to heal (see also this reading from chapter 8, in which He cleansed a leper).  In the Old Testament, hemorrhage such as the affliction suffered by this woman caused ceremonial defilement.  This necessarily imposed religious and social restrictions (as did leprosy), because contact with blood was strictly prohibited (Leviticus 15:25).   But this suffering woman, because she accounts herself unclean, approaches Jesus secretly -- and with great with.  Jesus brings her good cheer because of her faith.  He also corrects her thinking, because she could not hide her touch from Him -- and neither is she excluded from Him because of her illness.  The final correction in thinking comes because He exhibits her faith to all, so each might imitate her.

There are several things to note that are happening in this reading.  First of all, if we look at yesterday's reading, above,  we note that Jesus has just come from a head-to-head dispute with some Pharisees because He eats with sinners (tax collectors and others).  In the reading before that He disputed with some scribes over His power to forgive sins, and made a display of His stupendous healing power.   There is a continuity here, as in today's reading, before a ruler of a synagogue (who venerates Him in a form of prostration by kneeling or bowing before Him, translated as "worshiped"), Jesus praises a woman who is unclean according to religious law but has secretly touched Him in faith.  Each of these episodes signals to the leadership (present in the form of scribes, Pharisees, and this ruler of the synagogue -- identified elsewhere as Jairus) that Christ is indeed present with "new wine," so to speak.  The events challenge their thinking about who Jesus is and what He can do.  He has described His mission (in chapter 5, during the Sermon on the Mount) as coming not to destroy, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  Each of these events in recent readings teaches us what it means to "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees," and to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.  They are challenges to the understanding of the leadership who are present in various personae, and they also establish Jesus' identity as Messiah who is both human and divine.  The entirely surprising response of Jesus to this woman must have been astounding to all the crowd.  As the ruler of the synagogue is present and desperately urging Him to go to his daughter who "has just died," we can imagine the impact on Jairus.  Finally, in microcosm we see the tumultuous nature of Jesus' healing work, in that it turns upside-down the expectations of the people.  Jairus' house is filled with those who mourn.  There are flute players and a whole crowd of noisy wailers.  When Jesus tells them that the girl is merely sleeping, they ridicule Him.   We already know the importance of faith to healing, even in the friends or relatives of those who cannot ask for help themselves.  Here Jesus first takes action by having the loudly wailing (and ridiculing) crowd put outside. Again, He heals by touch, taking the little girl's hand so that she rises from where she sleeps.  Once again, as we noted in yesterday's reading and commentary, there is an image here prefiguring the Resurrection power of Christ which will become the central key to His identity as Lord (and thereby the fulfillment, or telos, meaning "end" in Greek), of the Law and the Prophets.  What we have is a hint of the understanding of the Church about Christ Himself as the central focal point of all of  Scripture.  In this identity as the One who is "the Resurrection and the life" (John 11:25), Jesus is the fullness by which all else is measured, and the light by which all of Scripture and spiritual history becomes viewed.  These glimmerings of what will be more fully expressed later teach us so, as they taught our forbears to view all of Scripture and the life of the Church and spiritual life to come.  To be the fulfillment is to be the telos, the absolute, the perfection of something.  His life shines the light of meaning for all else and becomes the standard by which we know and understand faith and the work of God in the world.  If Resurrection is present with Him, so our faith can bring us glimmers and meanings of this power.  Perhaps we, too, need a kind of resurrection in our lives, in any circumstance, as part of the healing of old wounds or deep traumas.  We call on Him in faith, knowing that He has displayed already His healing power that overcomes all obstacles and reaches where the world ridicules and loudly proclaims failure.  Let us remember His work that astonishes all expectations, and seek His way for us, even if we have to put "the crowd" outside to do so -- and change the way we think.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick


 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard that, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

- Matthew 9:9-17

Yesterday, we read that, after casting out demons from two men on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.  Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you."  And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes!"  But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" -- then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  And he arose and departed to his house.  Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.

 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.  Matthew, the author of our Gospel, is also called Levi (Mark 2:14).  My study bible explains that Roman overlords assigned specific areas to Jewish tax collectors.  These tax collectors were free to collect extra revenues for their own profit, backed by the military might of the Roman state.  Their collaboration with the occupying Romans, their fraud, and corruption caused other Jews not only to hate them but to consider them unclean (11:19).

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard that, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  Jesus dining with tax collectors and also accepting Matthew as a disciple ("Follow Me") offends the Pharisees.   But Jesus' defense is quite simple.  He goes where the need for the physician is greatest.  "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" is from Hosea 6:6.  My study bible says that this is not a rejection of sacrifice per se, but rather shows that mercy is a higher priority (see Psalm 51).

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast."  Typically in Jewish tradition fasting was done twice a week (Luke 18:12), on Monday and Thursday.  In addition to this, public fasts were regularly observed or occasionally proclaimed (2 Chronicles 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Joel 2:15), particularly on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:31-34) and in times of mourning (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19).  But the day of the Messiah was viewed as a wedding feast, a time of great joy and gladness.  Here Jesus is proclaiming that this day is present, and declaring Himself to be the Messiah/bridegroom.  In the tradition of the Church from its earliest times, fasting was continued as a practice -- but transfigured.  It was not seen as gloomy.   It was viewed as desirable, a "bright sadness," because by fasting people were gaining self-control and preparing themselves for the Wedding Feast, a forward-looking understanding.

"No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."  My study bible says that the old garment and old wineskins stand for the Old Covenant and the Law.  In the light of Christ these are viewed as imperfect and temporary.  But the new wineskins are the New Covenant and those in Christ.  The new wine, it says, is the Holy Spirit dwelling within renewed people, who cannot be constrained by the old precepts of the Law.

Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees, and His taking on of Matthew the tax collector as disciple, comes in the context of the recent healing stories in Matthew's Gospel.  Jesus reinforces this understanding when He says, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick."  In today's reading, the Gospel gives us glimmers of what is to come in the sense that transfiguration is a repeated hint of the reality that Christ brings into the world.  To be healed is in a sense to be transfigured, brought from one state to another state.  Here the keys are mercy and repentance.  Mercy is the means by which God acts, and also divine action in us.  Repentance is a form of transfiguration, literally meaning "change of mind" in the Greek.  It is what is necessary for the healed state of being.  We also need to read about fasting in this light.  John the Baptist's disciples come and ask about fasting -- and Jesus puts everything into perspective by declaring Himself to be the Bridegroom.  He is the Messiah they await, and the joy of the disciples must be seen in this light.  Jesus also predicts that they will fast "when the bridegroom will be taken away from them."   The early Church would instate the practice of fasting, similarly to the practice that the Jews had on Mondays and Thursdays, but the Church would establish it for Wednesdays and Fridays (commemorating the day of Jesus' betrayal and the day He died on the Cross, the times "when the Bridegroom was taken away" from His friends).  But as hinted at in the repeated understanding in today's reading, this was a transfigured fasting practice, one that looked forward once again to the joy of unification, the wedding feast, and the return of the Bridegroom to the Church, His Bride.  The practice is meant, in a nutshell, for healing and health -- learning to abstain not simply from food but rather from sin, and coming to know our capacity for self-mastery and making choices, such as happens in repentance.  Finally Jesus gives us the great analogy for transfiguration:  the wine.  Its enzymatic action is seen similarly to the work of the Holy Spirit.   New wine -- the "harvest" of His ministry -- must be put into new wineskins, those that will grow and expand with the action of fermentation, the process of the transfiguring internal work that we don't see but yet we come to observe its effects.    This is another mirror of healing -- the mysterious process that takes place internally, but gives us signs externally of its effects.  All of these things are glimmers, facets of the light that will grow through this ministry to bring our understanding of Christ as the One who transforms, transfigures, where ultimately the power of the Cross will even transfigure death.  How we become that wine is something we can't control or name, but rather something that works within us, with which we cooperate through faith and acceptance.  We may not know even how we come to change; but we can observe the fruits of this work in our own transfiguration and capacities for the fruits of the Spirit.  Let us remember who we are as the new wine, and the journey of growth and expansion and repentance we are on, the health of the Physician who is always making all things new.