Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Do you want to be made well?


 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."  He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."  The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.   For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."  Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 

- John 5:1-18

Yesterday we read that after the two days He departed from Samaria and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in His own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they had also gone to the feast.  So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches.  In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.  For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.  This feast is considered to be the Feast of Weeks, or the Old Testament Pentecost.  It is a celebration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.  The references to the Law of Moses later in this chapter confirm this interpretation, my study bible tells us.  It notes that the double-basin pool referred to here, which was believed to have curative powers, has been discovered about 100 yards north of the temple area, near the Sheep Gate.  The water for this high-ground pool came from underground springs and was used to wash down the sacrificial lambs before they were slain.  One understanding is that it functions as a type of Christian baptism.  Under the old covenant, a great multitude waited to enter the water for physical healing after an angel touched it.  The waters were special in that they were a way of indirectly participating in the animal sacrifices of the temple, as the animals were washed in the same water.  But the grace was limited to the first person to enter.  However, under the new covenant, baptism is given to all nations as a direct participation in Christ's own sacrificial death (Romans 6:3-6), and is done so without the mediation of angels.  Baptism therefore grants the healing of the soul and the promise of eternal resurrection of the body.  Its grace is inexhaustible.

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"  The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."  Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk."  And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.   St. John Chrysostom cites that Jesus singled out this man, who had waited for thirty-eight years, in order to teach all of us perseverance, and also as a judgment against those who lose hope or patience in much lesser troubles lasting a far shorter time.  Jesus asks the man, "Do you want to be made well?" for possibly several reasons.  First, it makes public the fact that the sick man kept his faith even in a situation that seemed hopeless.  How could a paralytic ever be the first into the water?  Christ draws attention away from the water and toward the need that we have for someone to help us.  This is fulfilled in Christ Himself, my study bible says, who became human in order to heal all.  My study bible also notes that not everybody who is ill truly desires healing.  Sadly, some may prefer to remain infirm in order to have license to complain, or possibly to avoid some particular responsibility, or to elicit the pity of others.  This miraculous healing is the third sign given in John's Gospel.

And that day was the Sabbath.  The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed."  He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"  Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?"  But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.  Although the Law itself does not specifically forbid the carrying of burdens on the Sabbath, my study bible says, it is prohibited in Jeremiah 17:27, and also explicitly forbidden in rabbinical teachings.  That Christ is Lord over the Sabbath is made clear by His command ("Take up your bed and walk"), and also by the man's obedience.  We make note again that, as is most often the case in John's Gospel, the term Jews here is used as a sort of political term, and refers to the leaders and not to the people in general.  All of the people in the story are Jews, including Jesus and the healed man (and John, the author of the Gospel).  The malice of the leadership is noteworthy; they focus only on the violation of the Sabbath, quizzing the healed man only about who told him, "Take up your bed."  They ignore altogether his extraordinary healing.

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."   My study bible tells us that the fact that the man was found in the temple shows his great faith.  He had gone there directly to thank God for his cure, rather than departing to someone's home or to the marketplace.  To sin no more is an admonition which we can take on several levels.  First of all, this man is the recipient of the grace of God; to further sin would be like a rejection of the gift, an unawareness of where his healing comes from.   My study bible notes that while there is a general connection between sin and suffering (Romans 6:23), it's not always a one-to-one event, as the innocent often suffer, and the guilty are often spared earthly sufferings (see in addition 9:1-3).  But there are times when our sins do lead to our own suffering in this world.  According to St. John Chrysostom, such is the case with this healed paralytic.  Christ's warning here seems to be suggesting that the sins that destroy the soul lead to a far worse result than an affliction of the body.  In any case, our great hope is to flee from sin altogether.

The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.   For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."  Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.   The man doesn't report Jesus to the leaders in a malicious way, but rather as a witness to Christ's goodness, my study bible says.  Even though these leaders were only interested in the violation of the Sabbath, the healed man emphasizes that it was Jesus who had made him well, and says nothing about carrying his bed.   To declare that God is My Father implies that Jesus is equal with God, which the leadership clearly understands.

 Elements of today's reading give us a sense of some responsibility in terms of our own lives and healings.  That is, Christ seems to indicate to this man in various ways the responsibility that he bears within his own condition, and even within the relationship to Christ.  He is first of all asked, "Do you want to be made well?"  It might seem rather obvious in the context of the story that the man wanted to be made well -- he'd been waiting there presumably for decades for someone to help him into the water.  But, as my study bible points out, it isn't obvious at all.  There are all kinds of ways in which we may somewhat paradoxically benefit (perhaps in "hidden" ways) from remaining in an unhealed condition, whether that be spiritual, mental, physical, or emotional.  There are hidden perks to situations that are seemingly impossible to reconcile with well-being.  The question itself conveys a kind of responsibility for making up our own minds what we truly want, and for asking that of God.  It is a way to be shaken into taking inventory, to be made conscious of where we stand, so to speak.  After Jesus heals the man, He next finds him in the temple.  This conveys another kind of responsibility:  the man has gone to the temple to thank God for the gift of his healing.  He knows where grace has come from, he knows what dependency he has upon God.  This is another stage of responsibility; had he not been in the temple, Jesus would not have found him again.  It is a level of acknowledgement of the reality of his circumstances that this healed man has come there to the temple.  But Jesus also builds on that choice and responsibility by telling him, "See, you have been made well.  Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."  There is a level of spiritual responsibility that Jesus conveys to this man, that he is in a place where he must take responsibility for actions and choices -- and even for his own health and well-being.  In some sense, to continue to sin would be to flaunt God's help and grace, to slide into a place of forgetfulness and apathy about his condition.  The grace of God -- Jesus' help and healing -- should have a way of waking him up to the urgency of the time, of the moment, and the need to stay awake and focused.  We could liken it to the consciousness required in recovery for all kinds of issues and problems.  Jesus' words are not just an idle warning.  He never wastes words, and certainly not commands such as this one.  They are a call to awareness.  Have you had a wake up call?  Do you know when grace has been active in your life?  Have you ever been given a second, third, or fourth chance?  May we all awaken to His warnings and commands, and take our lives as seriously as He indicates we must.




Monday, January 22, 2018

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe


 Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in His own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they had also gone to the feast.

So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."  The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

- John 4:43-54

On Saturday, we read the final section of the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, and her encounter with Christ.  (See the readings of Thursday and Friday for the earlier parts of the story.)  At this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?"  The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.  In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."  And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So, when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."

Now after the two days He departed from there and went to Galilee.  For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in His own country.  So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they had also gone to the feast.  Jesus' own country is Galilee (1:46; 2:1; 7:42, 52; 19:19).  So central to the Gospels is this understanding that a prophet has no honor in His own country that it appears, in one form or another, in all four (see also Matthew 13:37, Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24).  Galileans were present at Jerusalem during the Passover festival reported earlier in John's Gospel (2:13-25).  This is the second time that John has disclosed to us that Jesus performed many signs at that feast, although we don't know specifically what they were.  While the Galileans received Christ having seen His signs, my study bible says, St. John Chrysostom gives more credit to the Samaritans (see Saturday's reading, above) for accepting Christ based on words alone without the accompanying signs (see also 20:29).

So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum.  When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  Then Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."    Jesus is admonishing people in general here and not specifically the nobleman (you is plural both times).  My study bible tells us that faith based on miraculous works alone is insufficient for salvation.  This kind of incomplete faith quickly turns to scorn if the miracles cease (19:15).

The nobleman said to Him, "Sir, come down before my child dies!"  Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your son lives."  So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and went his way.  And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, "Your son lives!"  Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better.  And they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him."  So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives."  And he himself believed, and his whole household.  My study bible remarks that the nobleman's concern is clearly for his child, although his faith in Christ is weak.  He doesn't understand the true Lordship of Christ:  that He is Lord over illness even from a distance.  Neither does he understand that Jesus would have the power to heal even should the child die.  He inquires about the timing of the healing, still not completely trusting in Christ's authority.  But after all is confirmed he and his whole household believe.  In healing the child from a distance, therefore, Jesus not only heals the body of the child, but also the soul of this nobleman.

This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.  This is the second of seven signs that John's Gospel reports to us.  (We note that John also tells us Jesus did many other signs which he does not report in his Gospel.)  My study bible says that having revealed that He can see into the hearts of people from a distance (1:45-48), Jesus now demonstrates that He can heal from a distance.  This shows that His divine power knows no earthly limits.  While there are certain similarities between this sign and the miracle that is recorded in Matthew 8:4-13, there are also crucial differences.  These, it concludes, are clearly two different encounters.

The fact that there are no limits to Christ's power should tell us something very comforting, and also in which we can put our trust.  That is, there are no worldly obstacles to His power.  There is only the determination that God's will is to use power and authority in particular ways and for particular purposes.  By definition, God is so far beyond our own understanding and ways of being that what these purposes and ways are will remain mysterious to us.  Revelation is all about what it is that God chooses to give us and to teach us, both about ourselves and about God.  In today's reading, we're given to understand not only that God's ways are not our ways, but in particular that by applying a worldly way of thinking to Christ, we fail to know Him.  We fail to grasp what we are dealing with.  This is why faith is essential to our relationship and participation in the life He offers.  It is by faith that we begin to grasp something of God.  It is by faith that we are capable of sustaining this kind of relatedness and communion with Someone who is so far beyond what we are.  The demand for proofs is quite an interesting thing to think about, because there are indications here in this reading that reply to our constant demand.  John tells us clearly, in the words of Jesus, that "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe." Proofs put Christ down at our level.  We demand that God conforms to our expectations and judgment.  He will say to all who demand one that "a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign" (Matthew 12:39, 16:4; Mark 8:12; Luke 11:29).  The connection through faith asks for something more and something different.  The food we desire is participation in Him, in the love and grace of God, in the work of the Spirit, in the communion of saints.  When we pray for our daily bread, this is a direct plea for the Eucharist and all that it means and adds to our lives and forms of community for us.  If we desire only proofs, we will never get enough to satisfy an impossible and spiritually infantile demand that does not recognize the love that is offered, nor the life it contains.  What is the work of faith?  How does it pull us and draw us?  What does it give us?  This is what we're asked through the Gospel today, and Jesus' words and teachings.



Saturday, January 20, 2018

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified


 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?"  The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!  And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So, when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."

- John 4:27-42

In yesterday's reading, we read the continuation of the conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (for the first part of this encounter, see Thursday's reading):  Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But he hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ).  "When He comes, He will tell us all things."  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, "What do You seek?" or, "Why are You talking with her?"  My study bible says that Jesus' disciples marveled not only that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan, but that He was speaking with a woman who was unaccompanied was potentially scandalous.  We can learn more about Christ and the faith He teaches in the same way that His disciples did, by observing His actions in His dealings with women:  see 7:53-8:11; 11:20-33; 20:11-18 (see also Luke 8:1-3).

The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.  Could this be the Christ?"  Then they went out of the city and came to Him.  This Samaritan woman becomes an early evangelist.  She testifies to the advent of Christ and brings others to Him (see the following verses in today's reading).  An early tradition tells us that after the Resurrection this woman was baptized with the name Photini.  In Greek, this means "the enlightened one."  With her two sons and five daughters, she went to Carthage to spread the gospel.  Later she was martyred with her family under the emperor Nero, by being thrown into a well.

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."  But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."  Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"  Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work."  Jesus fulfills His role as Messiah by doing the will of the Father; this is therefore His food.  It teaches us, as well, that we are to perform the will of God in our own lives, without being distracted by earthly cares (6:27; see also Matthew 4:4, 6:25-33).

"Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!"  My study bible cites St. John Chrysostom here, who comments that Jesus' command to look (behold) is given because the townspeople are approaching.  They are ready and eager to believe in Christ.  Jesus compares these foreigners (considered to be so by the Jews) to fields ready for harvest.  The command equally applies to all believers to look to those around us and share the gospel with anyone who wants to hear it, regardless of race, origin, or ethnicity.

"And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this the saying is true:  'One sows and another reaps.'  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors."  St. John Chrysostom teaches us that those who sow and those who reap are the prophets of the Old Testament, and the apostles, respectively.  The prophets all sowed in preparation for the Messiah, but they did not see His coming and so therefore did not reap.  The apostles did not do the preparation -- but in their own lifetimes they will draw thousands to Christ.

And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did."  So, when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of His own word.  Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."   My study bible says that the fact that these foreigners are among the first to recognize Jesus as the Savior of the world shows that the gospel is for all people in every nation.

Jacob's well is located near the modern city of Nablus, a Palestinian city on the West Bank populated by descendants of the Samaritans of Christ's time.   As current tensions between the populations of the region are familiar to us, so we can understand the tension between  Samaritans and Jews of Christ's time and earlier.   They are a part of a long history.  What today's reading teaches us is an important lesson in the centrality of Christ for all of us.  It doesn't really matter what tensions we have between us, nor what differences we may find between ourselves -- whether that be for whole populations, such as nations or groups of any kind, on the family level, or even as individuals.  All of these differences -- no matter their duration -- are bridged in Christ.  In yesterday's reading, the Samaritan woman remarks to Christ, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  She brings up the matter of contention between the populations, and we know that a little over a century earlier, the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim had been destroyed by the Jews.  But Jesus will not engage in such matters with her.  Instead, He resolves the issue by proclaiming, in essence, that the basis for this historical argument is untrue, by revealing the higher truth that God is Spirit, and so must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.  This is the true reality of the revelation of Christ:  He is the center of all things, and the resolution of all things.  While we may not easily recognize this ourselves, while Christians themselves may contend with one another about all kinds of issues, the truth is that He remains the resolution.  It is in Him that we find the way to love one another even through our differences, that we find a true peace which is reconciliation in Him, that we learn all that He has to bring into our lives, including the joy of fulfillment in identity as those who put our faith in Him.  The very fact that God is Spirit gives us an enormous wealth of information that there is mystery beyond what we know, that reconciliation essentially lies in faith.  There are many things that Christ teaches through the discipleship offered to these individuals who populate the Gospels.  Jesus does not reveal Himself to scoffers, He teaches discernment, He chooses His battles in accordance only with the will of the Father, He teaches all of His followers to "love one another as I have loved you" (13:34, 15:12).  We are given the Holy Spirit in order to help us to grow in that likeness that is possible for us through the Incarnation.  But do we take these seriously?  Do we get caught up in our own "proofs" and understandings and dogmatic insistence on what must be?  Can we find ways to love one another in Him?  The conversion of these Samaritans and their welcoming desire for Christ to stay with them teaches us a very important lesson:  that what is necessary is not a truth that drives us apart, but the truth that teaches us better things than we already think we know, deeper things He can reveal to us, something we can only get to with faith.  Let us consider where He leads us, and how we get there.  Let us make note, also, that Jesus does not simply make a convert out of this woman by telling her what (presumably) she would want to hear.  He tells her the truth about her husbands (or lack of them), and He tells her, a Samaritan, that "salvation is of the Jews."  It is the truth that unites; it is we who do the work of faith in that truth.  This Samaritan woman, enemy of the Jews and least likely person for Christ to speak to, becomes one among the first evangelists. 






Friday, January 19, 2018

I who speak to you am He


 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ).  "When He comes, He will tell us all things."  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

- John 4:16-26

Yesterday we read that when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.  So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.   A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?"  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do You get that living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"  Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."

 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet."  As Jesus perceived that this Samaritan woman was living with a man without being married, and because He knew of her string of husbands, the woman perceives that Jesus is a prophet.  Because the Samaritans did not accept any prophets after Moses, they expected only the Messiah whom Moses foretold (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).  This deep insight to the hearts of human beings -- which is given to us in many examples in the Gospels -- is an indication of His divine nature.

"Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  My study bible tells us that if Jesus were truly the expected Prophet, then He could be the one to settle the historical argument about where precisely worship was to take place.  But Jesus refuses to answer this earthly question.  Instead, the discussion is elevated to the manner in which people should worship.  More importantly, Jesus turns the attention to the One who is worshiped:  God.  The Father is worshiped in spirit -- that is, in the Holy Spirit -- and in truth -- that is in Christ Himself (14:6), and also according to Christ's revelation.  That God is Spirit confirms that God is not confined to a particular location.  Those who receive the Holy Spirit and believe in Jesus Christ can worship God the Father with purity of heart, my study bible says.  Jesus affirms that true revelation comes from Judaism, in saying that salvation is of the Jews.   (We note that we should not conclude that no other religion contains truth; all may reach for the Person they do not know as Jesus, who is yet Truth.)  But my study bible here quotes St. Athanasius, who gives us the building blocks of our true understanding of Christ:  "The commonwealth of Israel was the school of the knowledge of God for all the nations."  More importantly, what Jesus testifies to here is that the Messiah, who was prophesied among the Jews, has risen from among the Jews.  While the gift of salvation in Christ is for all nations, it has come from within Judaism.  The hour which Jesus notes here is that of the death and Resurrection of Christ and to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which inaugurates the worship of the new covenant.

The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ).  "When He comes, He will tell us all things."  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."  Jesus' final revelatory sentence here (I who speak to you am He) is literally translated "IAM [in Greek ego eimi], who speak to you."  That is the "I AM" which is the divine Name of God.  Its use, my study bible says to us, indicates a theophany, a revelation of God.  The use of this Name by a mere human being was considered blasphemy and was punishable by death (see 8:58; Mark 14:62).  But Jesus is divine, and therefore His use of this Name reveals His unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In fact, He is God Incarnate.

It is significant that my study bible quotes St. Athanasius in commenting on our text today (he wrote, "The commonwealth of Israel was the school of the knowledge of God for all the nations").  St. Athanasius is also known as Athanasius the Great or Athanasius of Alexandria.  He was the Archbishop of Alexandria.  But more importantly for our consideration in today's reading, it was Athanasius who was known as the defender of the doctrine of the Incarnation; that is, that Jesus the Christ was fully human and also the only begotten Son of God.  His work and thought was noted already within a decade of his death as being that of a pillar of the Church.  He was foundational to the decisions of the Nicene Council.  If we understand Christ in today's passage, then we understand His declaration to the Samaritan woman as a revelation of God:  "begotten, not made" who is also Incarnate as human being.  It simply cannot be underestimated that this powerful affirmation of Jesus' identity would be contested throughout the centuries of Christianity.  It is foundational to the whole of our faith.   And like the Crucifixion, we could also call it "a stumbling block and foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23), as this reality has been the most contested, and is the most central tenet of Christianity itself.  St. Athanasius famously wrote (along with others expressing similar ideas and reasons), "The Word was made flesh in order that we might be made gods," meaning that in so doing, Christ assured us of the potential to be "like Him."  This would include the promise we're given of everlasting life, and our participation in Him through the Eucharist.  Among the many other reasons for our faith as stated in the Creed, here is an instance of Christ's own statements bearing witness to His identity.  To those who understand the language of the Scriptures, there is no missing the statement of the Name of God, as was revealed to Moses, in the Greek ego eimi of Jesus' word to the Samaritan woman at the well.  These words are the bedrock of our faith.  Let us pay attention.  Spoken to this particular woman at Jacob's well, they guarantee that this splendid, majestic, seemingly-impossible revelation is for all.





Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw


 Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.  So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour. 

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?"  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do You get that living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"  Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."

- John 4:1-15

Yesterday we read that Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.  Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"  John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.  So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.   Samaria was the region that is to the north of Jerusalem, and it is between Judea and Galilee (map).  My study bible tells us that although the Old Testament does not mention specifically Jacob's well, Jacob did dwell in the area (Genesis 33:19).  Wells, it explains, were significant both because of their rarity and their value in desert life.  Wells came therefore to symbolize life itself (Psalm 36:9-10; 46:4; Isaiah 55:1).   Until today, this particular well is maintained as a shrine, and pilgrims may drink from it.  Jesus is wearied from His journey, which shows His complete humanity.  The sixth hour is noontime, giving us a good image of a bright sun in this arid country.  By church tradition, this woman is identified as St. Photini, about whom we shall elaborate in a later reading. 

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."  For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?"  For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  The Samaritans were a mixed race of people.  They were also traditional enemies of the Jews.  They did worship the God of Israel and also awaited the Messiah, but they accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament (called the Pentateuch or Torah) as their Scriptures.  They had built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, which was destroyed by the Jews in 128 BC.

Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.  Where then do You get that living water?  Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"  Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.  But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."   In the ordinary sense of the term, living water means fresh and flowing water, from a stream or spring rather than from a pond or cistern.  But Christ uses this phrase to describe the grace of the Holy Spirit which leads to eternal life (7:37-39).  This gift not only remains in a person, but it is also so abundant that it overflows to others as well.  The Samaritan woman misunderstands Christ and asks Him, "Are You greater than our father Jacob?"  My study bible notes here that in the Scriptures, Jacob is a type of Christ, as he received the vision of the divine ladder linking heaven and earth (Genesis 28:12), which is fulfilled in Christ.  Moreover, just as Jacob gave this well for earthly life of his descendants and the people of this region, now Christ gives the well of the Holy Spirit for eternal life of all humanity who may accept and participate in the gift.

Today's reading invites us in to another story about Jesus, one that will open up for us new understanding, and reveal new truths that He has to teach.  We are on a journey together with this Samaritan woman who happens to be at the well alone with Jesus.  Again, as with Nicodemus, John's Gospel opens up to us truths and meanings as they evolve through Christ's teaching along with our growing understanding -- and specifically in the person of the Samaritan woman.  She misunderstands His terms:  the living water He speaks about, and how a person can never thirst.  The shocking thing, as indicated in the text, is that He speaks to this woman at all.  Moreover, He reveals His truths and His teachings to her, even His identity, as we will read in the next couple of days.  Why a woman?  Why a Samaritan woman?  Even His disciples will be astonished.  But they, too, must come to understand Him through revelations like this encounter.  There are a few small details that are intriguing for us to think about.  The woman at the well will become known as St. Photini, or "the Enlightened One" in the Greek meaning of her name.  It is precisely noon, the time when the sun is highest in the sky and gives its brightest light.  When Christ is crucified, there will be darkness at noon.  But today in this story, the brightness of the sun becomes ground for the greatest revelation possible, and perhaps in the most startling way, to the most unusual of persons for Him to be speaking to.  This also enlightens and illumines us about our faith. 



Wednesday, January 17, 2018

He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled


 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.

Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"  John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

- John 3:22-36

In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught Nicodemus:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.  And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.  We should remember what a great figure John the Baptist was in his time.  He was widely recognized as a holy man.  Jesus' first disciples were earlier disciples of John the Baptist (that presumably includes John the Evangelist, writer of this Gospel).  At this point, their ministries overlap.  Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples did (4:2).

Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified -- behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"   Again, as above, we remember that the Gospel tells us that Jesus did not baptize, but His disciples did (4:2). 

John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled."  John the Baptist is called the friend (or "best man") of the bridegroom, while Christ Himself is the bridegroom.  The bride, my study bible says, is the Church, the people of God.  John here confesses his role in the coming of the Messiah.  He is the witness to the wedding of Christ and His people.  Therefore he rejoices in the celebration.  His joy is fulfilled:  His true place and identity in the Kingdom are complete.

"He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand."  My study bible tells us that John's humility expressed here serves as an example for all the faithful.  John renounces all worldly or earthly glory and reputation for the sake of Christ.  By allowing Christ to increase in him, John finds his true glory.  This is also a statement indicating the end of the old covenant.  John is the last and greatest of the Old Testament style prophets.  As the law vanishes, it is the grace of Jesus Christ that abounds.  John's declaration is also revealed in the liturgical calendar.  His birth is celebrated by tradition in the Church at a time when the sun begins to decrease in the sky (on June 24), while Christ's birth is celebrated when the sun begins to increase (December 25).

"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."  Here John the Baptist echoes the teaching of Christ Himself (see verse 18 in yesterday's reading, above).   My study bible makes note of the absence of the word "alone" in this statement of faith.   John Chrysostom comments:  "We do not from this assert that faith alone is sufficient for salvation; the directions for living that are given in many places in the Gospels show this."  See also James 2:14-24.

There are a handful of occurrences in John's Gospel (and in one Epistle of John) where joy is spoken of in a particular sense of fulfillment.  Here, John the Baptist says, "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled."  He is describing his true role in the salvation plan of God, his relationship to the Christ.   It's important to note that it is in this context in which we read of the fulfillment of his joy.  At the Last Supper (in chapter 15) Jesus tells His disciples, "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full" (15:9-11).  He then immediately gives them a new commandment:  "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (15:12).  The fulfillment of both Christ's joy and the joy of the disciples is in this love, this relatedness among then all, with Christ as the center, uniting all in love.  In chapter 16, still in the discourse of the Last Supper, Jesus addresses His imminent "Exodus," the Crucifixion, about which the disciples still know so little.  They have only His vague statement that He will leave them for a "little while" (16:16).  Jesus tells them, "Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (16:22-24).   Let us keep in mind that He is speaking of the greatest possible tragedy that is about to happen to them.  Again, the fullness of joy is in their relatedness to the Bridegroom, their place in His love and thereby His Kingdom.  This is the fullness of joy.  In John's First Epistle, there is similar language found.  He writes as a witness to the life of Christ, and " . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:3-4).  Again, the fulfillment of joy is in direct relatedness to Christ as the Center, in "fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."  John the Baptist speaks paradoxically to our ears.  We associate happiness or joy with nominal ideas of success or winning.  But it is a question of what success really is, and what winning really is.  If we can only think in terms of competition with others, we will miss the point here.  Jesus tells us (also in John's Gospel as part of the Last Supper discourse), "In My Father’s house are many mansions" (see John 14:2-3).  The true perfection or completion or fulfillment of our joy is in that place that is prepared for us by Him, and clearly there is room for everybody in His Father's house.  There is no limitation on joy or completeness, even on the perfection implied in this completeness.  If we limit ourselves to the worldly perspective of what everybody else seems to be doing or chasing, we limit our own joy and our own sense of completeness or fulfillment.  We chase happiness in all kinds of places, but the fulfillment of joy is in return to Creator, in the place the Creator declares we are doing well.  That requires the kind of humility and the independence of thinking expressed by John the Baptist in today's reading.  That is, a kind of independence of thinking, or detachment, given to us as we are "taken out of the world" by the love of Christ and what that conveys within us and for us.  It requires a kind of strength that is given by the love of God.  It requires the love He is here to show us, to invite us into, and the discipleship He offers.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life


"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

- John 3:16-21

Yesterday we read that when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that Jesus did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.  There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"  Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  My study bible explains that Jesus is showing here the reason why the Son must be crucified ("lifted up" from verse 14, above, in yesterday's reading).  He declares that God's great love isn't only for Israel, but that it is for the world.  This single verse, it notes, expresses the whole of the message of John's Gospel, and even of all of salvation history.

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."  Jesus has come to save and not to condemn.  But human beings have free will.  This means that we are free to reject the gift.  Thereby we lose what He is offering through rejection.

"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."  John ties the failure to accept spiritual truth with the rejection of salvation.  He links it to the desire to hide from the light that is Christ. 

Faith is trust.  The word for faith in the Greek of the New Testament is rooted in the word for trust.  It is important to keep this in mind when we think about the words here in John's Gospel.  To lack faith is to lack trust, to fail to put one's trust in Christ.  That teaches us first of all that the nature of faith is all about communion and relationship.  It conveys more than simple relatedness, because Christ speaks of communion or participation in something.  Through faith, we participate in His life, and thereby through Him, in the life of the Church, the communion of saints, the reality of the Kingdom of heaven.  (See Luke 17:20-21.)  Lacking this trust of faith means that we fail to participate in this life that He is offering; that is, the life of salvation, and the eternal life He promises to those who are with Him.  In this sense, rejection is condemnation.  It is the failure to accept the gift of the life that He offers to us.  The gift of this faith is the whole of the package, all of its inter-relatedness, its meanings and values, its life of the Kingdom, its participation in His truth -- and even more importantly, in Him.  That is where the abundance of life dwells (John 10:10).  John links the lack of trust of faith with the desire to hide from the light, to hide one's deeds from the reality of Christ's life.  That is, from the light His life offers to us.  Within the perspective of that light, everything we are falls into a stark clarity.  But the life He offers us is also designed to do just that, to help us to come more fully into union with Him, and to grow in the life of God that gives us everything that we are.  It is all of this that is rejected through the desire to hide from that light, the lack of trust in Christ.  If we but think a little about it, we can start to see that it is within this context that Jesus' greatest warnings come to His own disciples, about how they are to treat the "little ones" who are entrusted to them for His care (see Luke 17:1-2, and especially Matthew 18:6-11).  It is all about trust in Christ, and the acceptance of His light for our lives.  We are to shine His light in the world, so that others may clearly see and choose for themselves.  At any moment, at all times, we each have this choice of trust available to us.  Even -- and perhaps especially when -- all else has failed us, we have our hope in Him and our trust.  To lose this is to lose everything.  And we remember that should we keep others from doing the same, we aren't being the good stewards He asks us to become.



Monday, January 15, 2018

Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit


 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that Jesus did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."  Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."  Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"

Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." 

- John 2:23-3:15

 Yesterday we read that the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away!  Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."  So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that Jesus did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.   John's Gospel gives us three Passover feasts attended by Jesus during His ministry, between His Baptism by John the Baptist and His Passion (see 6:4 and 11:55).  This gives us a three-year span to His earthly ministry.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."   Although John has so far reported only one sign in His Gospel (at the wedding at Cana), his Gospel refers above to the signs which people saw who were at the Passover, and here Nicodemus also refers to multiple signs, and that they point to the presence of God.  My study bible says that Nicodemus believed that Jesus was from God, but that his faith was still weak.  He is a Pharisee, and he fears his peers, therefore he came to Jesus by night.  After this conversation, Nicodemus's faith will grow to the point where he defends Jesus before the Sanhedrin (7:50-51), risking his life and standing by making a bold public expression of faith and preparing and entombing the body of Christ (19:39-42).  By tradition of the Eastern Church, Nicodemus's memory is celebrated on the third Sunday of Easter along with the Myrrhbearing Women and also Joseph of Arimathea, who was another member of the Council.  According to some early sources, my study bible reports, Nicodemus was baptized by Peter and consequently removed from the Sanhedrin and forced to flee Jerusalem.

Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."   It is a rare revelation that Jesus has made to Nicodemus, affirming for us in some sense that which John has said earlier in our reading, that Jesus knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.  Although Nicodemus is a Pharisee, and member of the Council, there is a way in which Jesus entrusts Himself to Nicodemus through this teaching.  To be born again can also be translated in the original Greek as born "from above."  It clearly refers to the heavenly birth from God via faith in Christ (1:12-13).  This heavenly birth is what baptism is, and the adoption by God as our Father (Galatians 4:4-7). 

Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  It is frequently reported in John's Gospel that Jesus' listeners misunderstand what He says in His teachings.  This is an important aspect of the Gospel.  It calls to our attention the depth and meaning of Jesus' words and speech, and it also tells us about how we learn and grow in our understanding.  (See 2:19-21; 4:10-14, 30-34; 6:27; 7:37-39; 11:11-15).  Christ uses each opportunity to elevate an idea from a superficial or earthly meaning to a heavenly and eternal meaning.

Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"  My study bible tells us that this birth of water and the Spirit is a direct reference to Christian baptism as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit which is given at chrismation.   Jesus' analogy to the wind is a play on words; again, it is an affirmation of the power of language at work through Jesus' speaking and teaching, and a reminder that Jesus is Himself the Word.  The Greek word pneuma/πνευμα means both wind and Spirit.  My study bible tells us that the working of the Holy Spirit in the new birth is as mysterious as the source and destination of the blowing wind.   So it is that likewise, the Spirit moves where He wills and cannot be contained by human ideas or human agendas.

Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven."  My study bible cites the commentary of St. John Chrysostom.  He writes that earthly things refer to grace and baptism given to human beings.  These are earthly, not in the sense of "unspiritual," but simply in the sense that they occur on earth and are given to creatures.  The heavenly things refer to the "ungraspable" mysteries of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father.  They relate to Christ's eternal existence before all time and to God's divine plan for the salvation of the world.  We must first grasp the ways in which God works among human beings before we can begin to understand any of the things that pertain explicitly to God.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."   And we delve here into yet another tremendous mystery, that of the Cross.  Moses lifted up an image of a serpent in order to cure the Israelites from the deadly bites of poisonous snakes (Numbers 21:4-9).  Here Jesus indicates that this particular miracle-working image prefigured His being lifted up on the Cross.  My study bible tells us that as believers behold the crucified Christ in faith, so the power of death is overthrown in them.  It says that just as the image of a serpent was the weapon that destroyed the power of the serpents, so the instrument of Jesus' death becomes the weapon that overthrows death itself.

The misunderstandings we encounter in John's Gospel are highly significant.  They highlight the power of language at work not only in the Gospels but throughout the text of all the Scriptures.  In like ways, the earliest Church Fathers would come to see the entire text of the Old Testament as prefiguring or expressing (through "Types") the truths, works, and Person of Christ.  All of this gives us an understanding of the fulfillment of the Old Testament through the New, and through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  It is once again a testimony to the importance of how language works in us and in our lives, and its qualities of inter-connectedness for our understanding and enrichment, and the depth of spiritual life that grows through time.  Language, indeed, gives us a sense of relationship, so crucial to the communion within the Kingdom.  Meanings themselves become ties of participation within the life of the Church and of all those who live in Him, even tying us to the life of the Church and communion of the saints to come.  Today's passage illustrates the perspective given through John's Gospel, that life within this faith in Christ, and participation within the Kingdom, is not a "one time only" acknowledgment.  It is, instead, a continuum.  We are headed somewhere.  That is, the fullness of perfection is in a particular reality or realization of life, that of union with Christ.  We are either headed toward this place, or we may get caught up in things that distract us from this place.  And (typically) paradoxically, even those things that are meant to distract us from this fullness of being and realization of who we are in Him also work -- with God's help -- to spur us to that place and that fullness.  The Cross is the prime example of this fact of our faith and our true realization of identity in this place of Christ's life.  It is "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks," as St. Paul writes.  There is no doubt that both the demonic and human forces who wanted Jesus dead were not attempting to help His followers in their faith!  But the Cross is the instrument of salvation.  It is the prime witness to Christ's work and life in the world, and to His message to us to follow Him.  And once again paradoxically, this "stumbling block" and "foolishness" also becomes a symbol that works in all levels within us, giving us a way to grasp our faith regardless of our present understanding or level of spiritual depth.  We are reminded as well that this is the way the text works, giving us infinite levels of access as well as infinite returns to find more there for us.  What that means is that each believer, regardless of background or level of education, regardless of sophistication or cultural initiation or depth of learning, has access to these realities and their profound mysteries that they signal.  Each works as a "sign" and they are meant for all of us.  Let us remember that it was twelve relatively uneducated and unsophisticated men who would bring the message to the world, and that it is the Spirit that truly quickens and brings all these things to mind -- that continues to work with the text, with the images and "types" we've been given, in order to help the whole of the Church, our communities, as well as each one of us, not only to come to this place of faith, but to work with us each moment of our journey.  The rich texture of our faith is hidden in plain sight in all of its manifestations, its services and hymns, its Scriptures, its inspired Tradition, its saints and prayers, and in the revelations we're given through Christ and the works of the Spirit in the world.  It is all meant for all the world through Christ.  This is where salvation really is, within this door given to us, by Whom everything is tied together.  We begin with Nicodemus today, and how Jesus questions that even a teacher of Israel cannot immediately grasp what He has to teach.  So we all start, and learn, and grow.  We are all on our way, even with the detours, to the place He has for each, and for all.



Saturday, January 13, 2018

Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up"


 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away!  Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."

So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

- John 2:13-22

Yesterday the Gospel gave us its sixth day of Jesus' ministry.  On this day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.  And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."  Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come."  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."  Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece.  Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water."  And they filled them up to the brim.  And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast."  And they took it.  When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom.  And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior.  You have kept the good wine until now!"  This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.  After this (on the seventh day, completing the first week of His ministry) He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.

  Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away!  Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"  Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."    In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) this event occurs at the end of Jesus' ministry.  Here in John it is placed at the beginning, in the first of three Passover festivals that Jesus will attend.  There exist patristic teachings that this event occurred twice.  Those who sold oxen and sheep and doves were trading in live animals which were to be used for sacrifices.  The money changers were trading roman coins for Jewish coins.  As Roman coins bore the image of Caesar, they were considered to be defiling in the temple.  My study bible tells us that the cleansing of the temple points to the necessity that the Church be kept free from earthly pursuits.  At the same time, each person is also considered a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19), and therefore is a sign that our hearts and minds must be cleansed of purely earthly matters; that is, we do nothing separately from God and God's purposes for our lives and the good of the soul.  The disciples recall Psalm 69:9.

So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.  First, we must once again note that in John's Gospel, the term the Jews is most frequently used to mean the leaders; it is accurate to think of the term as a kind of political one, denoting a certain party, in keeping with the events of the time of the writing of this Gospel (specifically the persecution of the followers of Jesus).  We recall once again that all the people in the Gospel are Jews, including Jesus, as well as the author of the Gospel, with very few exceptions.  Here John uses the term to refer in particular to the chief priests and the elders (see Matthew 21:23).  Since Jesus is not a Levitical priest, His authority to cleanse the temple is challenged by them.  Jesus is careful not to reveal Himself to scoffers, and so He answers here in a hidden way that His apostles understand when they remembered that He had said this to them:  the ultimate sign will be His death and Resurrection.  It became an intrinsic part of their faith, and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

We so often discount the effects and significance of language.  But illustrated in today's reading is the power of language, and especially of the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.   After each event described in today's reading, there is an important connection made by His disciples through memory.  In the first event described here, the cleansing of the temple, His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up."  And after the description of Jesus' confrontation with the leadership over His authority to cleanse the temple, the text tells us that when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.   Memory and language play an intrinsic role in faith, and in many ways.  The language of the Scriptures works in what we may term a poetic way, but even the word "poetic" isn't full of the true depth that is at work here.  The connections made between memory and the inspired language of the Scriptures, or of a beautiful service or hymn, and particularly the word of Christ Himself,  are infinite in their potential and their effect.  What we read in one passage today will open up for us tremendous new and faceted meanings every other time we read or hear them, depending on our place in life and what we may be capable of receiving.  That Christ Himself is the Word teaches us something of the power of language; that the Word uses words to speak into existence that which we understand as the very foundation of reality says more than one can write in a paragraph or two, and particularly with a limited capacity to understand the mysteries of God.  What we can know is that His is the word that keeps on giving.  For thousands of years, the Scriptures recalled here continue to feed, to inspire, to lead, to give direction and help and succor.  Gratefully, we can read John's Gospel and note that the author of the Gospel, and in the inspiration by the Spirit at work in all of it, gives us specific illustrations of just how the word works, how this language and memory works to help complete and fulfill our place in Christ's life for us, and in the entire framework of the Kingdom into which we are invited and may participate.  One cannot discount the power of word and memory, and its central importance to our faith.  The earliest founders of the Church, in the earliest centuries of its establishment, worked even article by article to establish meaning and to give us its theological underpinnings that lie hidden in plain sight, so to speak, in the language of the word we've been given.  For our purposes, however, it is more important to understand the power of memory at work with the connections that the Scripture makes within us, and how recollection plays such a role in our faith and even in defining who we are.  It all forms a part of the connectedness of the life we're given, and the greater abundance of life that we're promised.  It is how we may experience that Kingdom, how it will continually come to connect with our present experiences -- and how time is no obstacle to meaning, to connection, and even to the love present in the word.  Let us consider the ways in which we are given that which sustains us, builds us up, teaches us meaning, and in which we may also find ourselves at any moment.  It is all given in love, and its connections and memory continue to bring us what we need.