Saturday, February 24, 2018

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


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

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

- Mark 2:23-3:6

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

 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.  And the Pharisees said to Him, "Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"  But He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:  how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?  And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath."  Jesus emphasizes mercy, while the religious officials appeal to the law.   In yesterday's reading, above, Jesus referred to Himself as a physician, who goes where the need is for healing.  He tells them that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  That is, the Sabbath was given for the wholeness and healing of human beings.  Mercy -- acting as physician -- recognizes those needs.  He furthermore cites the example of David and those men with him, who ate the showbread when they were in need (1 Samuel 21:1-9).

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

Jesus says, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath."  The emphasis is on human need, and comes after the reading in which He replied to criticism that He dined with tax collectors and other sinners by saying, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  In yesterday's reading, the medicine was repentance.  In today's, it is care of the body.  The Pharisees are over-rigorous in their legalism; the Law contained provisions for need, exceptions to zealous enforcement in cases where it caused harm.   Jesus speaks as Son of Man, as the Son who is incarnate as human being.  As Lord He is author of the Law, but as Son of Man He is also one of us.  He emphasizes the true aim of the Law, the care of human beings.  Jesus as Son of Man is also a new revelation of God in the world, and He brings expansion in our understanding of God's love.  St. Gregory Nazianzus wrote (in a critique of Apollinarius, who claimed that Jesus did not have a human mind, but only a divine one), "For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved."  In other words, a less than fully human Jesus cannot truly provide salvation -- healing -- for human beings.  The very purpose of the Incarnation is for our salvation in Christ becoming one of us, and so uniting human beings to our Creator through His life and mission in every way possible.  As Son of Man, He is here to heal us.  And as Son of Man then, He is also Lord of the Sabbath -- because the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  His authority is vindicated and justified through the Incarnation.  God's love and condescension is given for us, God as Physician.  Every act of God is not a demand that we serve God simply in order to serve or because God needs our worship, but so that we are in right-relationship to Creator, so that humankind is healed and restored to full and true health.  That the Sabbath is made for man reveals God's extraordinary love for us, as does Jesus' incarnation as Son of Man.  In every way, we are assured of God's love, that God wants what is best for us.  This is, in fact the true purpose of the Law, and it is the true purpose of the new covenant of Christ.  When we lose sight of that fact, then we lose the true faith we need so that we may in fact be healed.  It begins with God's love, and there is also the fullness of our faith as well.



Friday, February 23, 2018

Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?


 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.  As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.

Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.  And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

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

- Mark 2:13-22

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

 Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them.  As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.   Levi is also Matthew.   Specific areas were assigned to Jewish tax collectors by Roman overlords.  These tax collectors were free to collect extra revenues for their own profit.  They collaborated with the occupying Romans, frequently committing fraud and extortion as they were backed by the state authority.  Other Jews hated them and considered them unclean (Matthew 11:19).  Here we see Levi/Matthew called by Christ, and he responds, leaving the tax office.

Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi's house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.  And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  Levi invites his friends, celebrating his Teacher, and the finding of salvation with Jesus.  He apparently draws other tax collectors and sinners to Christ.  For the scribes and Pharisees, it is all shocking.  But Christ's defense is quite simple.  He goes where the need of the physician is the greatest.   His medicine is repentance, made possible through mercy.

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting.  Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?"   And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?  As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days."   In Jewish practice, fasting was typically done two days a week (Luke 18:12), on Monday and Thursday.   (In the practice of the early Church, this was changed to Wednesday and Friday.  See Didache, chapter 8.)  In addition, there were public fasts that were regularly observed or occasionally proclaimed (2 Chronicles 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Esther 4:16; Joel 2:15).  Fasting was essential on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:31-34) and in times of mourning (Zechariah 7:5; 8:19).  But the time of the Messiah was a completely different reality -- the opposite of times of mourning.  The day of the Messiah is a wedding feast, a time of joy and gladness.  Jesus proclaims that that day is here, and declares Himself to be the Messiah or Bridegroom.  My study bible adds that for Christians, fasting (such as is traditional in this period of Lent) is not gloomy but rather desirable.  It is a "bright sadness," because by fasting we gain self-control and prepare ourselves for the Wedding Feast. 

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

If we simply think "legalistically," that is, simply according to a law-like structure, then once a sin is committed, it remains a stain.  But love and mercy work differently.  It's not that the law is unimportant or that values and codes are unnecessary.  But mercy becomes a primary focus of Christ's ministry.  Repentance becomes a key to healing.  Love focuses on a goal, a place of being.  It asks us to come into right-relationship, it pulls us toward something.  It is not merely a set of ideas or principles.  The tax collectors of Jesus' time were vilified in their communities, and with rightful cause.  They were seen not only as sinners, practicing extortion, but also traitors to their own people.  But Christ is a physician.  He sees redemption as the healing of sickness, repentance as a cure.  With Christ, with love, there is a chance to return, to do better, to dwell in a place where love can work through our lives.  It is not a question of finding a formula for this to happen, but a work of the heart that can expand and grow and change.  Here is the real key to the metaphor of the wineskin:  Christ asks us to expand and grow and change.  He asks us to make a commitment for the longterm, that where this communion with Him leads us, we are willing to go.  We're willing to repent -- to literally "change out minds" in whatever direction He as physician will lead us.  There's little question that to change one's life or lifestyle is not necessarily a simple thing, but faith comes into it.  In faith, we trust that Christ will help us to find a way to remain in communion with Him, to find a way to be in the world which does not ask us to sin.  For these tax collectors, to become disciples of Christ could not have been easy, but it was worth what it takes to be with the Bridegroom and to dwell in the place of love and communion the Kingdom offers.  Not only is it necessary for us to expand out of legalistic thinking to live in this place, but we will need a way where we expand to follow Him, to find the places to which He leads us, the life He offers.  Matthew/Levi becomes one of the Twelve Apostles.  He goes from tax collector to the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament.  Without the physician's medicine, how would this be possible?  Without the communion of the Bridegroom, where would such inspiration come from?  Only faith can do this for us, and life becomes a kind of continual repentance, always taking us to new places, asking us to change our ways of thinking and being, to adapt and expand like the wineskins filled with the new wine of the Holy Spirit.  Repentance isn't just about regretting past actions, it's about opening up to new ways of being and thinking which are better for us, and allow the Spirit to work through us.  It asks us to remember that in the original language of the Gospels, disciple (Greek μαθητης) means "learner."  None of what would result from Christ's ministry was predictable, but in all ways asked His followers to continue forward, to expand and to change.  So He continually asks of us in our lives, if we respond to His call to the wedding feast and the work along the way.  We will be not just invited, but remain with Him as the friends of the Bridegroom.



Thursday, February 22, 2018

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you"


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

- Mark 2:1-12

Yesterday we read that as soon as Jesus and the disciples had come out of the Capernaum synagogue where He had been preaching, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  But Simon's wife's mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once.  So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her.  And she served them.  At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.  Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.  And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him.  When they found Him, they said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."  But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."  And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.  Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."  However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.  Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.  And He preached the word to them.  Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men.  And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was.  So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven you."   And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise, take up your bed and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" -- He said to the paralytic, "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"  Mark gives us the details of Jesus' explosively-growing public ministry.  They can't even come into the house anymore, as there are so many people gathered there to see Jesus.  The people who need Him and what He offers so desperately wish to approach Him that they even open up the roof over Christ's head to lower down a paralyzed friend.  My study bible has an interesting emphasis on this passage.  It notes that one purpose of Christ's coming into the world is to forgive sins, and thereby freeing humanity from its bondage.  To forgive sins, it says, is a greater power than physical healing.  As the scribes correctly note, God alone can forgive sins.  Therefore, the easier task is to give physical healing.  Although Christ is fully God, and He holds the authority to forgive, He condescends to those gathered and heals the man in order to draw people to God, who is glorified by the people.

One part of this story is always striking, and that is the faith of the friends of the paralytic.  Their efforts for Him are like prayers.  It's perhaps ironic that while we think of prayers ascending to Jesus, these people reach through the roof to send the paralytic down to Jesus.  But the story here is their tenacity, and their creativity.  If they cannot easily reach Jesus, they find the means necessary to do so, even if it's unconventional, even a little bit outrageous.  But faith works like that.  There are paths we may take that seem circuitous, even crazy to some.  The path to our faith doesn't necessarily come easily.  This paralyzed man doesn't easily get to Jesus.  First he must rely on his friends to help him, and that's just the beginning of the journey.  How could he have considered coming in through the roof?  Another commentary on this passage emphasizes faith; that faith is a necessary and indispensable condition for salvation.  Faith itself works in mysterious and unpredictable ways.  In the example of today's passage, we see that faith is like water -- it flows in streams, in rivulets, underground, even in condensation through the atmosphere.  It forms its own paths and winding journeys to its source.  Here we learn that faith is collective as well as personal; the friends form a part of this healing, and so it is when we pray for one another, even when we ask those among the communion of saints to pray for us.   A profound truth contained in today's reading is just the surprising and unpredictable ways in which our faith will work.  No one could have foreseen that a paralytic would come in for healing through the roof.  The scribes, we can see, are outraged by what Jesus has to say -- that He can forgive sins.  There is more than one astonishing truth revealed here.  One is tempted to point out that just as a paralytic can come through a roof for healing, there are no limits to what God can and will do to save a world.  He even condescends to become one of us, a human being.  How can we put limits on God?  We cannot.  By the same token, we can't put limits or predictability on our faith either.  We just don't know where the journey will lead us, or what God's purposes are in honing our desire for God, in shaping our commitment, refining it and strengthening it.  The struggle for God will teach us to surpass what we may think of as our own limits, and to learn true spiritual creativity in manifesting and pursuing that faith.  There are all kinds of pathways to follow, and each, while retaining characteristics of love and devotion, may be as unique as the person or persons involved in every story.  To lower this man through the roof means there are no limits to be set that will define the journey.  There is only God who calls us and asks us to make that effort, whatever it takes for us to do so, and however it guides and shapes who we are and who we become.   To be forgiven is to be freed, liberated -- it is to be set free to find God's limits upon our lives, which are far and away beyond our own.   The paralytic is a kind of metaphor for being "stuck" in sin, in the repetition of wrong-headed ideas, mistaken belief, a way of living that isn't really best for us.  Faith demands that we stretch, and offers us the freedom to do so.





Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed


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

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

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

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."  However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.

- Mark 1:29-45

Yesterday we read that after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."  And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."  They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets.  And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.  Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"   But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.  Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this?  What new doctrine is this?  For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."  And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.

 Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  But Simon's wife's mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once.  So He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her.  And she served them.  Even in this shortest of the Gospels, we are given Jesus' life not only in its public aspect, but also in private.   Here, after preaching in the synagogue and astonishing the people, Jesus and the disciples go to their "headquarters," which is Peter's family home in Capernaum.  There is need for His healing here, too, as Peter's mother-in-law is ill.  The setting is intimate; He takes her by the hand and lifts her up, and she is restored to her place in the home, a place of honor and respect.

At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.  The public in need comes to Jesus; all come to Peter's family home to be healed, and others come to see what is happening.  The demons know Him; Jesus does not want them to speak because His divine and Messianic identity is at this time a secret.  My study bible gives several reasons for this:  the growing hostility of the religious leaders; the people's misunderstanding of the Messiah as an earthly, political leader; and Christ's desire to evoke genuine faith that is not based solely on marvelous signs.  That the demons know Him is also a sign of a deeper reality at work here, another realm we don't see but with which Jesus is familiar and where He is known.  The word mystery comes from a root meaning "secret."

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.  And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him.  When they found Him, they said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."  But He said to them, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth."  And He was preaching in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and casting out demons.  Again, we are given multiple dimensions of Jesus' life, and here is another example of intimacy.  In His private life, He sets out an example to the disciples of spiritual life.  He goes very early in the morning, while it's still dark, to a solitary place to pray.  Jesus sets the example of continual prayer and devotion to prayer life.  A solitary place is where He can be free from distraction, although so many people seek Him and have need of Him.  My study bible says that Christ's ministry comes forth from His communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and flows to people in their needs.  His praying in the morning shows us that we must put as first priority our commitment to God; only then are we equipped to serve others.  Prayer in our own lives strengthens us for what we need to do, and supplies to us as well wisdom, discernment, renewal, and faith.

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."  As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."  However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.   The biblical law regarding leprosy is found in Leviticus 13-14Deuteronomy 24:8 describes the purification of lepers and leprous houses, a duty which was entrusted to the priests.  My study bible explains that leprosy was considered a direct punishment for sins.  As lepers were considered unclean, they weren't permitted to live in the community or to worship in synagogues or the temple.  to touch the unclean was forbidden (Leviticus 7:21).  But Jesus touched the leper, showing His compassion, and also that He is not subject to the Law but over it.  To the clean, my study bible says, nothing is unclean.

Although Jesus' fame is spreading everywhere, Mark's Gospel also gives us His intimate moments.  This is a sign of the testimony of disciples, as they share not only His public ministry but also His private life.  They learn by living with Him.  We're told that Mark's Gospel was written for the community at Rome that was ministered by Peter, and so the stories we know of the intimacy of life in Peter's home in Capernaum, which served as a kind of headquarters for the Galilean ministry, seem to come out of this history.  The story of Peter's (Simon's) mother-in-law appears in all the Synoptic Gospels, and we're given the details of Jesus' touch; He takes her by the hand and lifts her up, and she takes her place again in the household, restored.  It's Peter and those with Him who seek out Christ in the earliest hours of the morning.  There is a deep privacy and intimacy in the gesture toward the leper; Jesus reaches out his hand and touches him.  Someone was there to witness and to tell us the story of Jesus' personal ministry, full of moments like these in which He reaches out to those whom He heals.  Without the kind of discipleship in which they learned by sharing each of these moments with Him, we would not be able to learn as they did.  We would not know the deeply personal and humane character of Christ, we would only know the public ministry, the divine Messianic identity, the miraculous healings -- but not His character and persona, His compassion, His love, His devotion to the Father and to constant prayer.  What we are given is the true "personhood" of Jesus (if you will), His character and personality, the fullness of the Person, and not merely a distant and magisterial image.  We are given the fullness of identity in these moments, the same Person to whom we pray and with whom we are also invited into the true intimacy of communion.  We, too, may know this kind of discipleship and the immediacy of His love.  This distinguishing mark of the Gospel gives us the power of that love at work within and for each one and also for all.  Without His prayer (and the many direct examples given us in the Gospels), what would we know of Him?  What would we understand?  His relationship to the Father also informs us about ours, and what we are a part of through faith.  God condescends not only to be one of us, but to be with us at all times and in every way.  Let us be grateful for that which truly sets Him apart and stamps our faith:  God who is with us and has made Himself known to us.  His sacrifice for all those who are His friends will be the gesture of love, and there is no greater.







Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel


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

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

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

- Mark 1:14-28

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

 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."   My study bible says that Mark's emphasis on John first being put in prison before Jesus begins preaching reveals that a key purpose of the old covenant, which was to prepare the people for Christ, had been completed (Galatians 4:1-5).  The time of preparation, therefore, is fulfilled.   To repent, it says, is to do a total "about-face."  As discussed in yesterday's reading and commentary, to repent is to do a complete "about-face."  In Greek, the word for repent literally means to "change one's mind."  Repentance, my study bible says, is a radical change of one's spirit, mind, thought, and heart -- a complete reorientation to a life centered in Christ.

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."  They immediately left their nets and followed Him.  When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets.  And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him.  Mark's is the earliest and briefest of the four Gospels.  What is not in the text is that these first disciples had already heard the preaching of John the Baptist, and were prepared to accept and to follow Christ immediately.  Although they are illiterate and unlearned in religion, my study bible says that these "people of the land" who are called by Jesus will be revealed at Pentecost to be wisest of all.

Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught.  And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out, saying, "Let us alone!  What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did You come to destroy us?  I know who You are -- the Holy One of God!"   But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!"  And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.  Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this?  What new doctrine is this?  For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."  And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee.  My study bible notes that the word immediately occurs nearly forty times in Mark's Gospel, and nearly all of them before Christ's entrance into Jerusalem.  The sense of urgency and purpose permeates Mark's Gospel as Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem to fulfill His mission of redeeming the world.  It makes Mark's account not only the shortest but also the most direct of the four Gospels.  To teach as one having authority is to teach from one's own knowledge and wisdom, rather than the scribes who would quote from famous rabbis.  But Christ's authority, as noted by the people, extends further -- even commanding the unclean spirits, and they obey.

Mark's Gospel moves along quickly.  We're given events due to their importance to the early Church, and most likely the ministry of Peter in Rome during a time of persecution of Christians under Nero.  The urgency present in the Gospel perhaps reflects the time of persecution, and a time when war was looming over Jerusalem and its outcome unsure -- but the Church had Jesus' warnings.  There is a sense of things moving quickly, and a cosmic influence present in those events giving them an even greater importance than one might assume of the great events of the world, its rulers, and wars of empires.  In this context of urgency we hear the repeated use of the word immediately.  Things happened quickly for the early Church.  The Twelve Apostles (with the exception of Judas, of course) traveled the known world spreading the message of Christ.  If already by Nero's time Christians were significantly enough in the vision of the emperor to result in persecution, then we can simply imagine the immediacy of the growth of the Church.   War in Jerusalem meant that even apocalyptic events were happening for the Church, of the greatest significance to the whole history of the Jews and the ministry of Christ, the suffering Messiah.  Such times presented to the early Church the greatest uncertainty.  Within that context, Mark sets out the stories important for the community that was itself facing suffering and persecution as did Christ.  Jesus is different from all the teachers of the synagogue the people know.  He acts decisively, He speaks with authority, and He astonishes the people because even the demons are subject to His commands and obey Him.  He commands His disciples to "Follow Me," and they do so immediately.  All of these things reflect the urgency and fast pace of shifting times of great import for all of history.  They reflect the need for discipleship, strength, courage, and commitment in His followers who must be like Him, and take up their own crosses for the sake of the Kingdom.  In this context, these words, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel" take on potent significance for each believer.  It was a time of choices, decisive change in which a world was to disappear forever, and new history take shape.  The whole community centered at Jerusalem would have to be uprooted in haste, and the Church itself become one of diaspora.  For the early Christians, it was a time to be aware of what was happening, to be alert to events in ways others could not perceive.  What Mark's Gospel seems to hold for us is a reminder that time does not stand still; that the moments of our lives and the choices we make are also important and have consequences.  There are all kinds of things that may take time -- and the journey of faith is a lifetime -- but right now there is always the decisive action of faith just before us, the choice to follow Christ immediately.   




Monday, February 19, 2018

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


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

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beats; and the angels ministered to Him.

- Mark 1:1-13

 In our previous readings, we were in chapter 17 of the Gospel of John.  Over the course of the past three readings, as we enter into Lent, Jesus gave us what is known as His High Priestly Prayer, which He prayed at the end of the Last Supper.   See the first and second parts of the prayer here and here.  On Saturday, we read that Jesus prayed, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the Prophets:  "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You."  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  'Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.'"  Gospel, according to my study bible, literally means "good news" or "good tidings."  (In the Greek this word is εὐαγγέλιον/Evangelion.  Another straightforward meaning is "good message.")   My study bible adds that this refers not to Mark's writings per se, but to the story of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the good news of our salvation.  If we consider it, what it implies is the message of the whole of Scripture and the spiritual history preparing us for Christ.  The beginning, however, refers to these opening events of Christ's public ministry -- specifically, the preparation by the one known as the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist, and Christ's encounter with John.   The good news begins with the prophets, two of whom are quoted here, Malachi and Isaiah (Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3).  John is thereby immediately linked with the long line of prophets of the Old Testament, of whom he is considered by the Church to be the final and greatest.  Malachi and Isaiah, and all the prophets altogether, prepare us for this salvation message, the coming of the Christ.  John the Baptist's ministry was all about the preparation spoken of by the prophets.

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.  Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.  I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."  John's preparation for the Messiah is one of repentance.  In the Greek repentance is metanoia, which literally means "change of mind."  More generally, it is to turn around, so to speak.  His baptism is one of repentance, but it is not Christian baptism which includes chrismation.  We're given the details of John's dress to further identify him as in the long line of the prophets of Israel.  HE is dressed similarly to that of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).  Jesus will say that John fulfills the prophecy of Elijah's return (Matthew 11:14).  John pronounces the tremendous news, that the One is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.  Then a voice came from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beats; and the angels ministered to Him.   Jesus' baptism is what is known as a Theophany, a revelation of God.  This event is also called Epiphany (meaning something like "shining forth" or "manifestation" which gives depth and meaning to circumstances).  It is the appearance of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit.  Manifesting the love Jesus explicitly prayed about in the High Priestly Prayer in Saturday's reading from John's Gospel, above, this shining forth gives us the nature of all:  the love expressed by the Father, the true nature of God and the communion into which we are invited (1 John 4:7-8).  In another manifestation of that love, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted for forty days, which is the foundation of our period of Lent we've just begun. 

John the Baptist was a figure of great influence in his time, and remained so for centuries afterward.  As an ascetic, he was the figure whom the earliest monks sought to emulate.  John, as we can see from his prophet's dress and lifestyle, lived purely focused on the kingdom of God, and the Messiah whose coming he heralded.   John is not at all a "worldly" figure, he is rather the one who loves God as fully as possible.  Many Christian saints have modeled their lives in similar fashion.   For those of us used to thinking of modern life as having all kinds of conveniences and luxuries as a key to good living, it may seem utterly paradoxical to think of a loving God that might ask us to deprive ourselves of these good things.  But what is missing from that question is the power in the love of God, and what that does for our lives.  If we are to put that first, and to put away all the things that take us away from the experience of that love, there is a fullness that we simply discount otherwise or fail to understand at all.  We all know the paradox that the more we have of some seemingly very good thing, the more we want.  Knowing and understanding what we truly need and how we need it becomes key to knowing ourselves as human beings.  We were created by a loving God for love and to be communing within that love; all the things of this world may be used to distract us from that very foundation to the fullness of our lives.  This is why Jesus teaches us to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).  Epiphany is the manifestation of a greater reality behind all the things we think we see.  It is the shining forth of truth and depth that we might be missing when we only know the surface of things; the showing forth of true nature -- and thereby our true nature.  We are meant for something more than the material; on this our joy and salvation depend.  The Holy Spirit immediately acts to drive Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.  We're told that He was with the wild beasts, and that the angels ministered to Him.  How is this a part of God's love?  How is it that One who is without sin needs to be tempted?  But Jesus sets the tone for all of us:  if even He is tempted, so shall we all be.  His temptations are material:  to power, to control, to security, to wealth, to fame.  But the exchange means He would be absent from the love of God, without which all the meanings of life become empty and dissolve into nothingness, a blind search for what we have lost.  The depth of love is lost. And this is salvation:  He brings that love to us in the good news of the Gospel.  Changing our minds is the way, turning around to understand the foundation we need for all else, that which builds up true meaning and depth and value, worth the sacrifice He will make -- worthy of whatever sacrifice is asked of us.  As we begin Lent, let us consider what all this means for who we are and may become.




Saturday, February 17, 2018

I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them


 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.  Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."

- John 17:20-26

In our current readings, we are reading what is known as the High Priestly Prayer, whcih Jesus prayed at the end of the Last Supper.  See the first part of the prayer in Thursday's reading, "Father, the hour has come."  Yesterday we read that Jesus prayed, "I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.  And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.  Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You.  Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."

"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me."  My study bible notes here that the Church in every generation participates in the life and glory of the Trinity.  Christians enjoy two kinds of unity, it says:  with God and with one another, the latter being rooted in the former.  Jesus is the glue here that seals us all together:  The Father is in Him and He in the Father, and He prays that believers may also be one in Them.  Note that Jesus prays also of this shared unity in glory, perfection, and love.

"Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them."  The key to all of Christ's ministry is love:  the ultimate goal of Christ's prayer, and of life itself, my study bible says, is for the love of the Father to dwell in each person. 

We have all heard the phrase "God is love" at one time or another (see 1 John 4:7-8).  But Christ's words here in the High Priestly Prayer really exemplify and elaborate for us the truth of this statement.   Love begins with the Source of all things, God the Father.  But Jesus' prayer sums up true communion in Him:  the love of God the Father, present in Christ whom the Father has sent, also dwelling in each believer, makes unity of the whole.  This is a love that is in itself perfection, and leads us to perfection and true glory.  It is that which glues and holds all together, against which even the gates of hell cannot prevail.  St. Paul writes, in Romans 8, "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  This is the experience of one converted, who has found the truth of Christ's words in the prayer for himself, and preaches that love to all who may come to know it for themselves.  We may not completely understand the impact of such love on those who lived two thousand years ago, but each person in every generation needs to experience it for themselves.  Christianity is an experiential faith, a communion that is not simply an intellectual concept or a utopian dream.  It is a living faith made of persons and in the Persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit.  Above all, it is a reality of love that is present for each one.  As human beings, we all strive toward the true fullness of love, but that fullness is present for us to dwell within us, to teach us, to grow in us, so that we may share in the true glory of God and also shine that light into the world.  This is His truth and His word that may dwell within us and among us.  In chapter 16, Jesus tells His disciples at the Last Supper, "Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me."  John's Gospel (and also the Epistles that bear his name) gives us the fullness of God who is love,  in whose love we are invited to participate and welcomed in communion.  Like Christ, to experience this love is to know that we are never alone.  That communion remains the balm for a world always in need of what it brings to each one, and to all of us.  To deny the presence of that which seeks to tear us away from love is futile; we can see the "worldly" all around us.  His sacrifice, the greatest love of all, is made for each.  Of this we can always be assured, in the darkest of times when we need it most.





Friday, February 16, 2018

Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are


"I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.  And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.  Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You.  Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

- John 17:9-19

Yesterday we began reading what is known as the High Priestly Prayer, given at the end of the Last Supper:  Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said:  "Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.  I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me."

 "I pray for them.  I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.  And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them."  My study bible points out that Jesus first prayed for Himself (see the earlier verses in the prayer, above), and secondly for them, the apostles.  Only after these does He pray for those whom You have given Me -- that is, all who will come to believe in Him.   The world (as used here) is the portion of humanity in rebellion against God, my study bible explains; that is, those who prefer darkness to His light (see John 1:5).

"Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are."  Jesus once again expresses our communion and participation in Him and the Father, when He prays that all may be kept "through Your name."   Holy Father, my study bible says, is echoed in the eucharistic prayer of the Didache, the first teaching document of the Apostles:  "We give you thanks, Holy Father, for Your holy name which You have made to dwell in our hearts" (Didache 10:2).

"While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name.  Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.The son of perdition ("destruction" -- implying total loss) is Judas Iscariot (6:70-71).  Old Testament prophecy alludes to Judas (Psalm 41:9; 109:2-13, Zechariah 11:12-13).  Judas becomes  type for all who will fall away in the last days (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3, in which "son of perdition" refers to the Antichrist).

"But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."   My study bible tells us here that inasmuch as Christ is from heaven, those who are joined to Him become like Him.  Therefore, all believers attract the world's hatred.  The second-century Letter to Diognetus (6:3) states, "Christians dwell in the world but do not belong to the world."  Those who are reborn in Christ have their citizenship in the Kingdom of God (3:1-5).  But one's vocation is in the world, where they are protected by God against the evil one

"Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."  To sanctify means to consecrate, make holy, separate, set apart from the world, and bring into the sphere of the sacred for God's use.  My study bible cites St. John Chrysostom, who interprets this verse as saying, "Make them holy through the gift of the Spirit and by correct doctrine." 

What is truth?  This is the question asked by Pilate to Jesus in Tuesday's reading.   In today's reading, Jesus prays to God the Father, "Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth."  It's a hard-seeming concept to try to understand, but Jesus invites us into the truth in His Person, via participation in the Eucharist and thereby communion with Himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus prays, "Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are."  To be kept in this Name is to be kept in the truth, the reality of the kingdom of God, the understanding of the love of God and how we may "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) in that love, in the reality of he presence of God in us and among us (Luke 17:21).  In this sense, God's Name is like a stamp on a passport, identifying the Kingdom of God to which one belongs.  Wherever we travel, we remain a citizen, and we bear the customs, the values, "the word" of which Jesus speaks.  In this sense, He asks the Father to "keep through Your name those whom You have given Me."   It is in this sense that He prays, "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."   Above all, if we read carefully, Jesus prays that all the faithful may be kept in this place, as citizens of this Kingdom, although we venture to a far country, so to speak, and be kept away from the evil one, who wishes nothing more than to draw us away from our loyalty to God, and our dwelling place in God's word and God's love.  We wish to remain, in the language of the Gospel, in His light at all times.   If Christ so prays as His fervent prayer for us to the Father, then how seriously must we take His prayer for ourselves?  Let us consider the freedom we're given to belong to this place, and to carry His love and His kingdom with us, and how precious that is.  He has asked us to share it with others, so that we may glorify in turn our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). 


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Father, the hour has come


Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said:  "Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I have glorified You on the earth.  I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
"I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me."
- John 17:1-8

Yesterday, for Ash Wednesday, the lectionary gave us Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:   He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'  I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said:  "Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him."  Today the lectionary gives us the beginning of what is known as the High Priestly Prayer, spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper.  This prayer contains the basic elements of prayer that a priest offers to God when a sacrifice is about to be made.  Those are:  glorification, remembrance of God's works, intercession on behalf of others, and a declaration of the offering itself.  The full prayer continues through verse 26, and will be covered in the readings through Saturday.  In the Orthodox Church, my study bible reminds us, the passage including today's reading is read on the Sunday which commemorates the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, in which it was affirmed that the Son was eternally "begotten, not made."  Jesus' words beginning the prayer bear witness to His divinity and to the filial relationship with the Father.  That the hour has come, my study bible tells us, signifies that Christ is Lord over time.   It's a repeated theme in John's Gospel.  An Eastern hymn affirms, "He voluntarily willed to ascend the Cross in the flesh."  To glorify refers to the redemption of all creation that will be accomplished through the Cross and Resurrection; this is the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world, for the life of the world.  In this redemption, my study bible says, the Father and the Son are glorified.  This is why the Cross, a sign of death, is glorified in the Church as "life-giving" and the "weapon of peace."

"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."  The knowledge of the only true God is far more than intellectual understanding, my study bible tells us.  It means participation in His divine life and in communion with Him.  Eternal life is therefore an ongoing, loving knowledge of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

"I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.  And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."  Christ work cannot be separated from who He is.  At the end of life, my study bible tells us, each believer can make this statement about the true work we are to do, regardless of how short or long that life may be. (See John 6:28-29.)

"I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.  They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You.  For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me."  The men whom You have given Me are the apostles, with whom Jesus shares the Last Supper.  They are the ones through whom God's word comes to us.  "Apostolic tradition" is the handing down of God's word to successive generations.  My study bible comments here that Isaiah prophesied that in the days of the Messiah, the knowledge of the Name of God would be revealed (Isaiah 52:6).  The phrase "Your name" reflects the common use in Old Testament times of the phrase "the Name" as a substitute for God's actual Name "Yahweh," which in itself was too sacred to pronounce.   The fuller revelation of the Name was given to those who believe in Christ, my study bible says, because Christ manifested the Name -- not only by declaring the Father, but also by being the very presence of God and sharing the Name with God the Father.

I came across a quotation from St. Ephrem the Syrian by chance today:  "Truth and Love are wings that cannot be separated, for Truth cannot fly without Love, nor can Love soar aloft without Truth; their yoke is one of amity."  Jesus manifests these words by His life, and His declaration that "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world."  His subsequent words affirm the very communion into which His Apostles -- and by extension all the faithful who follow in His words given to us by the Apostles -- are invited not simply into relationship, but into full participation.  Thereby the truth of the Name is love -- both in being and in work.  This is a profound revelation of the true nature of faith.  That is, the true nature of the faith into which we are invited.  It is not an intellectual concept, not a set of ideas or theories, but much, much more.  It is the reality that is truth and love, just as St. Ephrem says, and we are invited to journey into it for the fullness of our lives.  It will never end.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted


 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'  I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

- Luke 18:9-14

Yesterday we read the section in John's Gospel about Jesus' trial before Pilate:   The high priests and those who'd arrested Him led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning.  But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.  Pilate then went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?"  They answered and said to him, "If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you."  Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your law."  Therefore the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death," that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.  Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?"  Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew?  Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me.  What have You done?"  Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."  Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king them?"  Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king.  For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."  Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?"  And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all."

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector."  The Pharisee is a highly respected and careful observer of the Law.  The tax collector is despised -- he's a sinner who collaborates with the occupying Roman forces.  He betrays and cheats his own people, often using extortion to collect more for himself.

"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'"  My study bible points out that the practices of this Pharisee are worthy examples for others to follow.  His good deeds (fasting and giving tithes) are considered the primary weapons against the passions of lust and greed (that is, adultery and extortion).  But without a humble and repentant heart or disposition, even the best outward practices are worthless, and lead to pride and judgment of others.  Note that the text tells us that he prays with himself.  My study bible says that God is absent where there is boasting.

"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'"  The tax collector expresses even by his posture an awareness of the state of his soul.  He stands afar off from the altar of sacrifice, and he won't even raise his eyes.  He prays what is perhaps the chief prayer of the Church, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!"  This is the foundation of what is called the Jesus Prayer, or Prayer of the Heart, and the basis for ancient monastic and lay practice to "pray without ceasing" as we are taught by St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).   He gives us the refrain "Lord have mercy" that permeates worship and personal prayer everywhere. 

"I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  To be justified is to be forgiven and set right with God.  My study bible says that inward humility is blessed while pride in outward deeds is condemned.

In today's reading we are given the primary emphasis in Lent:  humility.  Traditional practices such as prayer, almsgiving, and fasting are meant to have this primary impact that the development of humility is to teach us:  a closer and more dependent relationship upon God.  To be humble is primarily to have a distinct awareness of where we stand with God, where we stand with Christ.  How do we measure up in the sight of God?  Love goes a long way toward humility.  In love or in a loving relationship, all pretense can disappear.  To stand on pride is not really an act of love, it's a kind of manipulation, and can dissolve into abuse.   To be humble before God is to bear all, just as the tax collector does.  It is linked to truth and a pure heart -- because what is in the heart is what comes out of his mouth.  When we "pray with ourselves" as the Pharisee does, we cite the good things we do, but we're cultivating an image for ourselves, rather than asking God what the next step might be.  We're always on a road somewhere; when we're purely satisfied with ourselves we're not really listening for the forward movement God calls us toward.  We're not in that loving relationship.   Perfection is a goal realized in the pureness of love and communion.  Jesus says that "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  Everywhere we look, there are all kinds of ways to exalt ourselves, especially through social media.   Like the Pharisee who prays with himself, our lives can be all about a kind of publicity that reflects the image we want back to ourselves and in the eyes of others, making an impression.  But the depth of the heart is a different matter, and looking toward the deeper, higher, more truly majestic authority of God is a whole different story -- and that's where we need to be.   A communion of love drops all pretense and image and merely desires to please the Beloved with a sincere heart, and experience God's love which is absolute.  Let us consider this Lenten period how we get to that place.  




Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice


 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning.  But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.  Pilate then went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?"  They answered and said to him, "If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you."  Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your law."  Therefore the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death," that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.

Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?"  Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew?  Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me.  What have You done?"  Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."  Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king them?"  Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king.  For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."  Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?"  And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all."

- John 18:28-38

Yesterday, we read of the three-time denial of Christ by Simon Peter, after Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested in the garden.  Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple.  Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.  But Peter stood at the door outside.  Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in.  Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, "You are not also one of this disciples, are you?"  He said, "I am not."  Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves.  And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.  . . .  Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself.  Therefore they said to him, "You are not one also one of His disciples, are you?"  He denied it and said, "I am not!"  One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, "Did I not see you in the garden with Him?"  Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.

  Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning.  But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.  Pilate then went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?"  They answered and said to him, "If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you."    My study bible cites the commentary of St. John Chrysostom here.  St. Chrysostom notes the irony that fills this passage:  Jesus' accusers did not fear to be defiled by condemning an innocent man to death, but they would not set foot into a court of justice.

Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your law."  Therefore the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death," that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.  Once again, we need to make note that in John's Gospel, the Jews is used as a term signifying a political party, and indicates those religious leaders who oppose Jesus.  Jesus is also a Jew, as was the author of the Gospel.  My study bible comments that since the chief priests had no actual crime with which to make an accusation against Jesus, Pilate refused to pass judgment.  When the chief priests say, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death," they don't refer to the Law of Moses.  Rather, they're referring to the laws of Roman occupation, under which only Romans had the right to execute people.  Therefore the chief priests rely on Pilate to sentence Jesus to death.   Jewish law prescribed stoning as the usual means of execution (see Saturday's reading, in which they attempt to stone Jesus).  But Christ prophesied many times that He would be killed by being "lifted up" on the Cross (3:14; 8:28; 12:32-33).  He had foreknowledge that He would die, not at the hands of the Jews, but by the Roman method of crucifixion.

Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?"  Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?"  Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew?  Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me.  What have You done?"  My study bible comments here that it is unheard of that the accused would have to name the charges against himself in any court.  The captors would always be the ones to nae the crime.  But that Pilate has to ask Jesus what the charges are shows that the chief priests could not name any crime that Christ might have committed.  More importantly, it shows that Jesus was Lord over the events of His death (see verses 4 and 8 from the passage describing events at His arrest).  Even the governor here has to come to Him in order for the trial to proceed.

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."  Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king them?"  Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king.  For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."  Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?"  And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all."  As with the Samaritan woman, we may find it remarkable that even to Pilate, Jesus expresses the truth of His identity and His spiritual reality.  He tells the truth of His ministry and His kingdom.   Pilate clearly knows, as he states to the religious leaders, that Jesus is guilty of no crime.

It's interesting to consider the scene in front of us.   We may think of this scene in which Jesus is on trial for His life as entirely lawless, given what we know is going to be the outcome.  But, in fact, we are in the presence of two very great sets of law, two giant historical precedents in the evolution of law and in particular for a rule of order and justice -- even protection of the innocent -- that of both Jewish and Roman law.  We have the official representatives of both here in this scene:  the Jewish religious leaders (the chief priests, whom Pilate names) and Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.  We can witness both sets of authority upholding principles of their law:   the religious leaders won't enter the Praetorium lest they be defiled, they also state they have no right to execute anyone (although that is a law of the Roman occupation, not Jewish law); Pilate looks for reasonable charges of crime for which Jesus may be accused and finds no fault with Him.  Absurdity is also present:  there are no real charges against Jesus, and Pilate asks Him, "What have You done?"   We're tempted to think these are simply autocratic times, and certainly there is corruption and cruelty.   We tend to forget the rules of law that did exist and were important precedents, even the systems of public order that put in place notions of what we call civilization.  But even in the best-planned of societies, we should understand that corruption is not only possible but that temptation to power always exists.  No human systems have been found that put an absolute end to temptation to corruption and abuse of power; we always have to guard against the temptations that face human beings.  And there we come to a spiritual problem -- for this is not just a story of human justice gone awry but rather of spiritual and even cosmic justice at work.  The worst sorts of crimes and sins will take place.  But it is God who is on trial -- and God will take the worst sorts of circumstance and turn them to the ends of true justice, cosmic justice.  The story of the Cross is the story of salvation, redemption, freedom, and liberation for all of us from the bonds of the very evil we will witness in His crucifixion -- and here is the heart of the story which we must ponder as we begin the journey through Lent.  Jesus will act as Witness:  through all things, He remains true to the Father, true to God's love, true to righteousness and His love for human beings.  He will serve and He will sacrifice -- His very death will bring about the end of death for those who abide in Him.  St. Paul writes of suffering, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).  Jesus' story is not just about the fallibility of even the best of human systems, nor the presence of evil in our world, but rather it is all about what it is to bear and endure all the things of this world with grace.  His is the example we follow if we are to abide in Him.  The steadfast love of God that He expresses -- especially when He tells us that He is never alone because the Father is always with Him (8:29, 16:32), is what we are to know for ourselves when we bear our own crosses and find the strength that God's love gives us when we abide and return that love.  Jesus says, "For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."  His greatest truth is God's love.  May we all dwell in that truth and know that it is His voice we always need, especially in the times of greatest trial.