Saturday, May 26, 2018

Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!


 But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there.  And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.  Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
"Behold!  My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
And in His name Gentiles will trust."
 - Matthew 12:15-21

Yesterday we read that Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!"  But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?  Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."  Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue.  And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand.  And they asked Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" -- that they might accuse Him.  Then He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."  Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."  And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. 

 But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there.  And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.  Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:  "Behold!  My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!  I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles.  He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust."  Christ's refusal to fully disclose His identity as Messiah is foreseen by Isaiah, my study bible says (Isaiah 42:1-4).  Among His reasons for secrecy are:  the growing hostility of the Jewish leaders; the people's misunderstanding of the Messiah as an earthly, political leader; and Jesus' desire to evoke genuine faith not based only on marvelous signs.  The Servant of Isaiah refers first to Christ, and by extension to all those who follow Him.  In Isaiah's prophecy is also foreseen the mission to the Gentiles after Pentecost.

In a worldly sense, we tend to view appearances or images as full manifestations of a concrete reality.  But in God's sight, we get quite a different perspective, particularly when it comes to Godly attributes, like power or beauty or goodness, and even truth.  Isaiah's prophecy makes it clear in any number of places that the Holy One, the Messiah, does not come to us in a form that makes it clear to common sight that He is divine.  He has, instead, the appearance of a servant.  He does not come as a conquering warrior or one who declares his achievements in an earthly sense, nor a fearsome warlord such as people understand of history, but rather "He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench."  This is the paradoxical way of God.  True to the word of my study bible, it is the way the holy has come to work in the world as well, and among those who follow Him.   When St. Paul prayed about an infirmity that plagued him, he was told, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."  St. Paul adds, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Beauty is also seen as the grace which accompanies a form that the world might not recognize.  In Isaiah 53:2, we read of the mystery of the self-emptying beauty of the Servant of God:  "without beauty, without majesty (we saw him), no looks to attract our eyes."  Paul Evdokimov calls this a type of kenotic veil thrown over His splendor.  St. Peter writes, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:3).  In other words, notions of external beauty may be instead within, and imperishable.  Evdokimov writes that "in this case, the very infirmity becomes ineffably 'beautiful' for in going beyond its infirmity in a veritable trans-figuration, the obstacle is made to serve the spirit in a mysterious bending to the secret destiny of a being."  He compares the tradition of the "fools for Christ," saints who intentionally appeared to be crazy or in some way outside the norms of society, as those who went to the depths of shame as part of their vocation in order to sow light -- a "show," he writes, which was often seen only by the angels.   This paradoxical beauty is only found in humility, with our example set by Christ.  There is no more powerful example of this than Christ on the Cross, a veil of shame hiding the hour of His glory from those who could not truly see.  It is something so seemingly alien to our world that is bathed in increasing power and reliance upon images, which are blasted upon us in every form and at ever-increasing speeds and intensity through the power of media and technology.  One wonders where humility may be valued in the cultures of technology, or where a search for genuine beauty will be found or even attempted in generations who can rely on a kind of internal loop of feedback only they increasingly select for themselves.  Perhaps this lack of value of humility or understanding of inner worth and beauty that does not rely upon images in the eyes of others is responsible to some extent for problems of violence and inexplicable crimes of rage among the young.  It may give us a choice as a successful way for the vulnerable to deal with bullying, as opposed to the images of violence and absolute victory or vindication in popular media and fiction.  In this sense, Christ as healer is a key to what we are missing, and when the Church fails to uphold this paradox and gives us instead only models of worldly "success," then we are failing our children and its subsequent generations.  The entire "model" of Isaiah is one of humility, even suffering, and servitude as that which characterizes the most beautiful One of all, the One who will "send forth justice to victory" and in whose "name Gentiles will trust."  This is a far cry from those who make sure to project the image of morality to the world in their charitable deeds (Matthew 6:1-2), or who constantly seek only to shame others.  In the Gospels we have plenty of examples of the latter in those who seek to shame Christ or John the  Baptist, and do not recognize their holiness or the work of God in their ministries (see Wednesday's reading).  Let us consider, then, Isaiah's Suffering Servant, and the beauty of God at work in those whom perhaps only the angels see in truth.  It is all about the soul, the truth of a person, the heart and the inner life, the sacrifices we may make in service, in the love of God that is genuine and flows to others even in ways not seen by the rest of us.



Friday, May 25, 2018

If you had known what this means, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath


 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!"  But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?  Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue.  And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand.  And they asked Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" -- that they might accuse Him.  Then He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."  Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."  And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.

- Matthew 12:1-14

Beginning with Monday's reading, Jesus has been responding to questions from disciples of John the Baptist, and also speaking about the Kingdom of God and its presence in His ministry.  Yesterday we read that Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.  All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!"  But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:  how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?"  My study bible notes here that the Pharisees are rigid in their legalism.  The Law allowed plucking a few heads of grain in a neighbor's field (Deuteronomy 23:25), but they consider it "reaping" and therefore unlawful on the Sabbath.  Jesus provides Old Testament references of blameless "violations" of the Sabbath, and thereby demonstrates that the law is not absolute over human need or service to God.  That David and his men partook of the showbread (1 Samuel 21:5-7) is a prefiguration of the Eucharist.  In the Old Testament this was forbidden to anyone but the priests, but in Christ it is given to all the faithful.

"Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."  Christ is Author of the Law, and Lord over all of it.  As Lord, my study bible says, He teaches that mercy takes precedence over regulations, ordinances, and ritualistic observances.  Jesus quotes from Hosea 6:6.  It is the second time He has done so; the first was in response to criticism that He dined with and made disciples of tax collectors and sinners, also with an emphasis on healing (see this reading).

Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue.  And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand.  And they asked Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" -- that they might accuse Him.  Then He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."  Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand."  And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.  Here is love in action, Christ's active work of mercy as an example of what He has just preached.  It is a defining act of God's presence in the world, by the Son of Man, Incarnate and with us to reveal God and God's truth and love.  Again, Jesus cites a common example of exception to the law, an allowance to save an animal.  The image here is one of God as life-giver, meaning that He is here not simply that we may have life, but that we may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

What do we reject when we reject God?  This event calls us to be alert to what it is that brings life more abundantly to our world, to human beings.  Is it lawful to do good?  To save life?  These may seem like simple questions, but when we are faced with dilemmas of choice, it is often hard to discern what is meant to restore or give life -- or especially to enhance the quality of life for human beings and for all the world.  How do we judge?  We can observe in the Pharisees' reaction also something typical for us as human beings.  They are outraged that Jesus has made a direct challenge to their criticism, and their role as enforcers and upholders of the Law, its regulation and application.  They are blind to the effects of His work, and do not consider what is being revealed to them.  It tells us a story that revelation of God will have a dividing effect between those who embrace this reality and those who do not (10:34).   The flash of spiritual light means we must make choices, and those who reject will be driven further away.  It tells us that this powerful revelation is meant ultimately for judgment, although until that time we each are on a journey in which there is room for more than an abundance of mercy from a God who is love and who desires mercy and not sacrifice.  Let us consider, in the all-too-human image of the Pharisees, what the story tells us about ourselves.  To what do we cling, and for what do we give up what might be a precious image of ourselves?  Here, there is One from whom they may learn, but they are blinded by their outrage at His challenge to their ideas and authority.  Ultimately it must be the love of God that leads us to where we each need to be.  There are all kinds of things we may sacrifice for, but there is One whose love gives us so much more in return, and who calls on us to live it.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light


 At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.  All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

- Matthew 11:25-30

In yesterday's reading, Jesus said, "But to what shall I liken this generation?   It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:  'We played the flue for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament.'  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'  But wisdom is justified by her children."  Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:  "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.  But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."

At that time Jesus answered and said, "0. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."  My study bible cites blessed Theophylact, who comments that God has hidden the mysteries from the wise of the world, not out of malice toward His creatures but because of their own unworthiness -- it was they who chose to trust their own fallen wisdom and judgment rather than God.  Moreover, out of love God withholds this revelation from those who would scorn it so that they do not receive an even greater condemnation.

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."  My study bible says that Jesus' yoke is submission to the Kingdom of God.  A yoke could be seen as a sign of hardship, burdens, and responsibilities (1 Kings 12:1-11; Jeremiah 27:1-11; Sirach 40:1).  In Christ, however, the yoke is easy, for the power of God works in each person.  Moreover, the reward is infinitely greater, it says, than any effort man puts forth.  Gentle is literally "meek" in the original Greek of the text.  It's the same word Jesus uses when He preaches, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (5:5).

Obedience to God is obedience to love.  This is submission to the Kingdom of God, in the words of my study bible.  Christ explains this yoke as easy, and the burden we take on as light, for He is not an abusive authoritarian ruler of violence; He is instead the God of love who Himself is gentle and lowly in heart.  Synonyms for this include "meek" as indicated above, and also "humble."  Let us consider what it means that we worship a God who describes Himself as having the personal characteristics of gentleness, meekness, humility.  It stands the reality of worldly power on its head.  It gives us a sense that what we worship, and what we seek to learn from, is all love -- a different way of being, a different kind of enterprise to learn about when Christ speaks of those who are meek who shall inherit the earth!  He stands what we "know" on its head, and in that light justifiedly tells us that it is a blessed thing, something to be thankful for, that God the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, has "hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes."  So much so, that Jesus adds, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight."  In our worldly ways, we tend to confuse the language of obedience, submission, discipline, and sacrifice with that of the power of violence demanding submission.  But when we speak of God -- and in particular God the Father whose attributes are all shared with the Persons of the Trinity -- we are speaking of love.  The Lord of the universe is one who describes Himself as meek, gentle, humble, lowly of heart, and it is to these attributes of leadership in His sight that we submit in order to learn from Him.  For the graciousness of God is so overwhelming that all of our reaction should be as St. Peter's was when Jesus declared that He must wash the feet of the disciples:  "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" (John 13:1-17).  The Lord of the universe is a Lord of love, who washes us in His love and prepares us to serve in that same spirit and, maybe most importantly of all, to learn that love and to practice it.  This we are not capable of doing for ourselves.  It is the "wise and prudent" who trust themselves to know what only God can reveal to us.  In service and submission, we find the healing and correction we need to become "like" God; it is in this Kingdom that we seek to participate and learn and grow in that love and to share it with one another.  Let us consider which yoke and burden we prefer, as we look around ourselves and find the abuse of power hidden among so many, regardless of the compassionate masks they seek to wear.  It is in God's truth and authority that we can trust instead.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wisdom is justified by her children


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

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

- Matthew 11:16-24

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

 "But to what shall I liken this generation?   It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:  'We played the flue for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament.'  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'  But wisdom is justified by her children."  Jesus' quotation references a game played among Jewish children in which they would divide into two groups.  One pretended to play musical instruments or sing, and the others would respond in a way opposite to what would have been expected, either dancing or mourning.  Jesus is drawing a parallel to the Jewish leadership and their responses to both John the Baptist and Himself.  John the Baptist they criticized as too ascetic, and Jesus is criticized for being too liberal in mercy and joy ("a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" -- see this reading).   That wisdom is justified by her children is an important statement regarding our assumptions about holiness:  the Spirit works as it will, and those who do God's work in the world justify wisdom by their fruits.  Holiness is ever-creative and manifests myriad forms, coming from the Source of life itself; neither is it contained by our assumptions or reasoning (Isaiah 55:8).

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

What does it mean to be blind to holiness, goodness, wisdom?  It is a mistake to assume that good works are simply done only for those who'll be interested in them.  A true testimony is, in effect, an act of God.  One moved by the Spirit or through whom the Holy Spirit works is not acting alone, nor in a manner that is simply characterized by personal choice and therefore not pertinent to others.  Every holy act, every gift, is given in community.  This even extends to personal prayer if it is true and pure.  When we choose to live as a part of this Kingdom, it makes an impact -- perhaps unseen -- in the community of the world.   It is a kind of energy that is at work in the world, and it is the energy of love and mercy manifest, even when its effects are in some sense shocking or disturbing.  Jesus uses the examples of Himself and John the Baptist.  John scandalized with his asceticism; he lived in the wilderness, wore clothing from the skins of camels, and lived purely for God, seeking no kind of worldly comfort but for that love alone.  Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners, giving scandal by His love for those who need Him as physician, and His joy at being with them, as friends of the Bridegroom.  But wisdom is justified not only by the ministries of both John and Jesus, but by all her children who are to come.  It should be noted that in Greek, the word for wisdom is feminine:  sophia.  Moreover, the word here translated as children literally means "works."   Therefore we understand that the works to which Jesus refers, and the children He cites, are those "works" inspired by the Spirit in those who love God.  Through participation in the Kingdom, they are this mutual love manifest.  The condemnation of rejection therefore really comes from a rejection of God, and this is why such works are never done in a vacuum.  Rather, it calls us to account, whether or not we like it.  Holiness touches on the deepest part of ourselves.  It calls to the heart.  It a call is from our Creator.  We can choose to ignore or remain in a place of ignorance or lack of understanding, but we never leave the business of what it is to be a human person created in the image and likeness of God, nor the joy contained in the life God offers to each of us in love.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he


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

- Matthew 11:7-15

Yesterday we read that when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples concerning their first apostolic mission (Matthew 10), that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:   The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." 

 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John:  "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see?  A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.  But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:  'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.'"  There is irony here in Jesus' statement, as those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses, and John is locked up in prison in the house of King Herod Antipas.  But John wore nothing like soft clothing, and preached in the wilderness, baptizing and wearing the clothing of a prophet in the style of Elijah who also lived in the wilderness in radical poverty for the sole love of God, as Matthew tells us in chapter 3:  "Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey" (3:4).  Jesus quotes from Malachi 3:1.  It is Malachi who prophesied Elijah's return at the time of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5).

"Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."  My study bible says that in terms of the Old Testament Law, John the Baptist is the greatest prophet.  The New Covenant is of such incomparable value that those who share in the New Covenant are greater than John was without it.

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."  There are several interpretations that have been given to the idea that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, my study bible tells us.  Some say that it refers to the idea that the Kingdom breaks into the world "violently," that is, with great power and force.  Indeed, Jesus seems to contrast prophesy and the law with what occurs with John, who is the last and greatest in that lineage, which is the arrival of the Kingdom with presence.  Others have said that the Kingdom of heaven is a reference to Christ Himself, who has been incarnate since the days of John the Baptist, and who will suffer the violence of the Cross.  According to St. John Chrysostom, the violent who take the Kingdom by force are those who have such earnest desire for Christ that they let nothing stand between themselves and faith in Him.  Another thing we must consider is that the prophets all prophesied in the Holy Spirit; but it is John who announced that He who will baptize with the Spirit is present, and witnessed the Spirit's presence with Jesus at His baptism (see Matthew 3:11-17); it is the Spirit in which the Kingdom is truly present to us.

"For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  My study bible notes that John does not ascribe to himself the role of Elijah (John 1:21), but Jesus does.  John fulfilled the mission of Elijah (Luke 1:17, 76) and his destiny was similar.  But John is honored over Elijah as John prepared the way for the advent of Christ Himself.

Some important thoughts about the Spirit and the Kingdom, and its presence and manifestation in the world.  It is the Spirit who made possible the birth of Christ as human being; as Matthew puts it, Mary was found with child of the Holy Spirit (1:18).  In Mary we see the image of the burning bush which Moses observed (Exodus 3:1-2), in the midst of which was a flame of fire, and though it burned the plant was not consumed.  It is the Spirit in which we as Christians are invited to participate in the Kingdom and its presence of beauty and light and meaning.  In light of Pentecost, today's passage gives us much to think about concerning the true nature of the Kingdom and what Christ has to say about its presence with us.  Saints Peter and Paul enumerate for us gifts of the Spirit via their Epistles, and St. Paul teaches us about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  In one of the most beautiful compositions of the fruit of the Spirit, St. Paul teaches us about the greatest of all gifts, love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).  In all of these ways, the Kingdom fashions those who participate in it as greater than John the Baptist.  The real question is how we participate in what our forbears understood as the true beauty of the Church, which is the beauty of the Spirit.  All of these fruits are not borne of simple work or our own fashioning.  They are rather given through the gift of contemplation, through that which works through true prayer, participation in the Kingdom.  And that must be what we seek, as Jesus invites us to do here.  This must be that which we focus upon as He points the way and teaches us about the great and unsurpassed gift of the ability to participate in this Kingdom.  All the prophets and the law prophesied until John, but now something with power and force is happening, something altogether new, but we need to embrace it with all our hearts, and truly live it.




Monday, May 21, 2018

Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me


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

- Matthew 11:1-6

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

Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.  And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"  The lectionary skips over several verses in chapter 9, and also chapter 10, in which the disciples are sent out on their first apostolic mission and Jesus preaches extensively about the nature of His mission on earth (see these texts here).  We note first of all about today's reading that John the Baptist is in prison.  According to patristic teaching, John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask this question so that he may guide his disciples to Jesus.  Undoubtedly, John' own faith was strengthened through Christ's response.  As we note also, in chapter 10, Jesus has just sent out His apostles on their first mission, also extensively teaching them what the mission of the Church will be like.  It is a time of transition, a new covenant, as exemplified in Christ's response to John's disciples in Saturday's reading, above.

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

Coupled with our previous reading (above, in which Jesus preaches to John's disciples about the need for new wineskins to hold new wine), we get a taste of what is happening, a shift in history, an intervention in time that is a bold revelation of God's work in the world.  Christ comes into time as the divine/human "Theanthropos" (to use the theological term for our Messiah who is both God and human).  The Logos becomes Incarnate in order to intervene in a world under the power of the evil one.  Patristic teachings conclude that whether or not our world had been a "fallen" one, the Incarnation of Christ would have taken place.  Our Lord and Creator condescends to us from love, and in so doing brings Himself in order to heal and bring us closer to Him.  John the Baptist is considered the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus' word to his disciples conveys the idea that the time of the Messiah has come, the fulfillment of prophecy is at hand.  We live in the time Christ announces has come, and so we still keep in mind what it is that we serve and the faith in which we seek to live.  It is a time of healing and correction:  "The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."   It is essential that we keep in mind this mission, because it is ongoing.  The ministry of Christ is here to heal.  But what that means is that we take note, in our world, of what needs healing.  We should keep in mind that Christ did not come simply to "fix" everything, but to invite us into this struggle of a change of leadership, so to speak.  He is Liberator, but we still live in a world awaiting a judgment, in which its prince is still effective in seeking to hold captive, to blind, to make lame and ill and deaf, and most particularly to inhibit life.  From the earliest apostolic teachings, we are given a contrasting way of life and a way of death (see for example, the Didache, the oldest known teaching document in the Church).  In Judaism also, there existed this tradition.  But what we as moderns tend to lose sight of is that all of this spiritual battle cannot simply be fixed by what we think of as progressive advances.  Christ as the Person who is Truth, as Logos, certainly gives us the impetus for a search for truth, for an improvement in all forms of healing the ailments of the world.  But separately from our spiritual source of light, how do we use and implement whatever material tools we have in the world?  Abstraction alone cannot give us spiritual wisdom and insight.  Most of all, our own limitations still apply.  We need to seek what it is we don't know, and the help available to us.  We remain with our blindness and limitations, and we remain distinctly human as the examples in the Gospels constantly remind us of all we need to learn and how we need to grow, especially in wisdom, just as the disciples do.  Let us consider that our Liberator seeks our participation in His spiritual battle, with the weapons of prayer, love, and virtue -- and the power of faith -- as those we need for His mission for us.  The theologian Fr. John Anthony McGuckin writes, "When Truth is a living person, we can  no longer try to make it synonymous with mere accuracy."  In other words, through our faith, we are given a fullness of truth in which we seek to participate and which will always pull us forward into what we do not yet know, in which truth also embodies the good and the beautiful.  Rational abstraction cannot give us such a mission, but only Christ the Logos who has become one of us can do so; and through our faith this mission continues now.



Saturday, May 19, 2018

Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well


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

- Matthew 9:18-26

Yesterday we read that Jesus passed from where He healed the paralytic, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.  Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in that house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, often, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  Now do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

 While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live."  So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples.    It's interesting that the ruler (of the synagogue in Capernaum, elsewhere called Jairus) comes before Him.  Here the text is translated that he worshiped Jesus.  (In Mark and Luke, we're told that he fell down at Jesus' feet -- the word literally means that, but it is also a word widely used to mean "to worship.")  Jesus has just had a confrontation with Pharisees over the tax collectors with whom He was dining, so it's significant that this ruler of the synagogue has faith in Him.  My study bible notes that authority over life and death is in the hand of God alone (Deuteronomy 32:39, 1 Samuel 2:6).  As Jesus is of one essence with the Father, He has this authority (John 5:21).

And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well."  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well."  And the woman was made well from that hour.  The healing of this woman once again demonstrates (as with the leper in this reading) Christ's power to cleanse and to heal.  In the Old Testament, my study bible notes, hemorrhage caused ceremonial defilement, which imposed religious and social restrictions as contact with blood was strictly prohibited (Leviticus 15:25).   This woman who has suffered for so long accounts herself unclean, but she nevertheless approaches Jesus in secret and with great faith, as Jesus notes.  He brings her good cheer because of her faith, and He also corrects her thinking, in that she could neither hide her touch from Him, nor is she excluded from His presence because of her illness.   Finally, even in these circumstances, Jesus remarkably exhibits her faith to all, so that they might imitate her. 

When Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, "Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping."  And they ridiculed Him.  But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  And the report of this went out into all that land.  Once again, Jesus disrupts the social order as all are agreed the girl is dead; so much so that they ridicule Him.    The flute players and the noisy crowd are there to mourn and wail as all are certain the girl is dead.

It's seemingly paradoxical to juxtapose the many facets of Jesus on display here.  He has explicitly said in the Sermon on the Mount that He has not come to destroy but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (see this reading).   For instance, in healing the leper, He commanded that the leper then make a testimony to the priest as the Law declares (8:4).  But Jesus is more than one who honors the Law, He is the true author of the Law.  As such, His fulfillment takes us more truly into the heart and meaning and intent of the Law.  He is here, above all, to heal -- and this is the ultimate intent of the Law.  The woman with the blood flow may be ceremonially unclean, but it is her faith that makes her well.  It is her connection, her covenant with the Lord that is at work in what she does.  In yesterday's reading, He quoted from Hosea, telling the criticizing Pharisees, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  The repentance of a sinner, and the healing of this ailing woman and Jairus' daughter are one and the same in the action of Christ as Physician:  all are in need of His healing and reconciliation with Him as Christ, as Creator.  Whatever it is that ails, He is here to heal.  In taking on our afflictions in full humanity, He becomes the instrument of healing, and of sacrificial love -- as even in the worst of circumstances or condition, He unites our humanity to His divinity through faith.  This is true healing, individually and communally, and it was also the purpose of the Law.  But in His Person we have more than the Law, we have the fulfillment of the Law.  Let us consider the woman in this story, as one with a blood flow making her unclean for twelve years, who has suffered terribly and is outcast from community.  He not only heals her, but makes an example of her faith for the whole crowd.  In her we are given the revelation of the astonishing good news of God's desire for mercy and not sacrifice, a fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy.  What was intended for protection of a community is not to be used as an instrument that prolongs and compounds suffering; instead we are taught about the power of faith and the true nature of God as compassion.  And this is where He is forever, because He has suffered with us, and brought us the good news of His love.  Where is our faith in all of this?  How do we live our communion with He who came to be one of us, with us?







Friday, May 18, 2018

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


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

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

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, often, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  Now do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

- Matthew 9:9-17

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

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.  And He said to him, "Follow Me."  So he arose and followed Him.   Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in that house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means:  'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'  For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."  Matthew the tax collector is also called Levi (Mark 2:14).   Jewish tax collectors such as Matthew were assigned by Roman overlords to specific areas.  They were free to collect extra revenues for their own profit, backed by the Roman state.  They were widely despised and also considered unclean because of their collaboration with the occupying Romans, their fraud, and their corruption (11:19).  As Jesus is dining with them and has accepted a tax collector as a disciple ("Follow Me"), the Pharisees are offended.  But Jesus' defense is simple, and also central to our understanding of Christ and also of the Eucharist:  He goes where the need of the physician is is the greatest.  "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" is from Hosea 6:6.  My study bible says that this is not a rejection of sacrifice per se, but rather shows that mercy is a higher priority (see Psalm 51).

Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, often, but Your disciples do not fast?"  And Jesus Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  Now do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."  Jews typically fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12) at Jesus' time and by tradition, on Monday and Thursday.  Additionally, there were public fasts which were regularly observed or occasionally proclaimed (2 Chronicles 20:3; Ezra 8:21; Esther 4:16; Joel 2:15), especially on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:31-34) and in times of mourning (Zechariah 7:5, 8:19).  But Jesus presents the reality of His Presence, reflecting that the Jews saw the day of the Messiah as a wedding feast, which is a time of joy and gladness, a covenant which is the basis of life itself.  Jesus is proclaiming that day, and that He Himself is the Messiah/Bridegroom.   For Christians, then, fasting would be transformed.  My study bible says that it is not gloomy but desirable, a "bright sadness."   Fasting is viewed as a way to gain self-control and preparation for the Wedding Feast.  The old garment and old wineskins stand for the Old Covenant and the Law. My study bible says that in view of Christ these are imperfect and temporary; the new wineskins are the New Covenant and those who are in Christ.  The new wine is the Holy Spirit who dwells within renewed people, who cannot be constrained by the old precepts of the Law.

Christ as Physician is perhaps the most central image to the Gospels that we can think about.  His entire ministry and, indeed, the impact of the Incarnation, is to heal.  This is His mission.   Reconciliation is much more than a restoration of covenant between God and God's people.  It is rather a mission to heal and to restore a world in the image of its creation and through the sacrifice and love of Creator.  In this light, everything that Christ does is designed for healing, as medicine.  The Eucharist -- Giving Thanks -- is medicine for all of us in this perspective.   It is a way of drawing us closer to Creator, to the image in which we are created, unifying and linking us to Creator through what He has declared is His Body and Blood.   The ultimate unification is the wedding feast which we await, the return of the Bridegroom.  All of this is both declared and implied in today's text, as Jesus dines with those who are despised by the community for what they do to earn a good living -- often accompanied by extortion and seen as traitorous to the community.   Matthew is overjoyed to find that the Messiah is His Lord as well, and we know him as the author of this first Gospel.  This celebratory feast in His home is to introduce His friends to Christ, the Physician, the One who has come to those who need Him the most, whose medicine is mercy. 


Thursday, May 17, 2018

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you"


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

- Matthew 9:1-8

In yesterday's reading, we read that when Jesus and the disciples had come to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (after a very stormy crossing), to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.  And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God?  Have You come here to torment us before the time?"  Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding.  So the demons begged Him, saying, "If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine."  And He said to them, "Go."  So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine.  And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.  Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.  And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus.  And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.

So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.  Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.  When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you."  And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes!"  But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise and walk'?  But that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins" -- then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."  And he arose and departed to his house.  Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.  Jesus' own city is Capernaum, to which He and the disciples have returned from across the Sea of Galilee (see yesterday's reading, above).  What is notable and remarkable about this healing is the role of the friends of the paralytic in expressing the faith that is indispensable to it.  It shows us that faith is collective as well as personal; we can always pray for others, those whom we know and whom we don't, those who are living and those who have passed.  There are three signs of Jesus' divinity shown here:  He knows the secrets of hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7, 2 Chronicles 6:30);  He forgives sins, a power which belongs to God alone; He heals by the power of His word.

The power of prayer is a truly remarkable thing to contemplate.  Certainly in the Gospels, there are surprising aspects of prayer that are given to us.  In this case, we can see that prayer works in a sense which might be described in modern terms as a network.  Each of us has the facility to work as a "terminal" in a network setting when it comes to prayer.  We may connect that prayer with others in praying for them, so that, like the friends of the paralytic, our prayers may be effective in helping to bring about their healing.  In this sense, one who is too caught up in his or her own life may have a heart softened by the power of prayer through a friend of loved one.  In this sense, prayer is almost a seemingly unlimited facility for connecting with our Lord and helping to effect healing in the lives of others, whatever form that may need to take.  We also pray for the dead, or rather for those who live in Christ but have passed from this life.  Again, the Church through this practice effectively shows us there is no limit to the effectiveness of prayer; neither space nor time hinders our prayers for others.   It functions like a network in which God is the center, but each of us may facilitate connections for others.  In this model, and perhaps not so coincidentally in the patristic language of the Church, mercy is the energy of God that works along this network; it is God's love in action in which we may share by also practicing mercy through our prayers.  Altogether, each of factors combined give us a tremendous picture of facility and power that is possible through prayer.  It is little wonder that those monastics throughout the centuries have practiced prayer in order to uphold and to save a world in need.  Let us consider this all-too-frequently overlooked power that is in prayer.  Its action is subtle, and deep in the heart.  Again, our reading gives us a hint of the work of Creator in whose realm we participate through prayer:  He is the knower of hearts, and we may reach into hearts through prayer in ways that are impossible through any other means.  We simply have no idea where our prayers will lead or what healing action may be at work through time and the depth prayer may reach.  Prayer is a practice which is always appropriate.  May we do as St. Paul teaches, in practicing prayer which accompanies our lives without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). 


What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God?


 When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.  And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God?  Have You come here to torment us before the time?"  Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding.  So the demons begged Him, saying, "If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine."  And He said to them, "Go."  So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine.  And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.  Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.  And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus.  And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.

- Matthew 8:28-34

Yesterday we read that when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him (in Capernaum), He gave a command to depart to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go."  And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."   Then another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead."  Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves.  But He was asleep.  Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us!  We are perishing!"  But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?"  Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  So the men marveled, saying, "Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"

 When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.  And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God?  Have You come here to torment us before the time?"  Now a good way off from them there was a herd of many swine feeding.  So the demons begged Him, saying, "If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine."  And He said to them, "Go."  So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine.  And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.  Then those who kept them fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.  And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus.  And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.  My study bible says that the demons recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and are surprised that their power is being terminated before the time of the last judgment.  Typically, the demons show great malice, but even they can do nothing against the will of God.  They can only enter the swine at Christ's command.  The immediate destruction of the herd shows that the men had been protected by God's care; such destructive forces would have resulted in their deaths under the demonic influence.  We should keep in mind that for the Jews, these are unclean and unlawful animals.   These swineherds and the people who begged Jesus to depart their region are likely Jews who are unlawfully raising swine for money in this region mixed with Gentiles.  They care much more about the loss of the swine than the healing of these formerly demon-possessed men.  My study bible says the suicidal destruction of the swine emphasizes the incomparable value of human beings, whose salvation is worth every sacrifice.  Indeed, Jesus and the disciples have crossed a frighteningly stormy sea to come here.

Jesus has traveled across the Sea of Galilee to come to this place.  It's seemingly a God-forsaken place, and these men are perhaps like some in the world we can see who are tormented by circumstances, by the things that plague and ail, by demons we don't see.  But perhaps what's important here is that Jesus comes to this place.  It's a sign of the Incarnation, an image we're given that Jesus will go to the far off ends of the earth, away from what we know as civilized, even into the realm of the dead here among the tombs, to reclaim life and to heal human beings.  In becoming a human being, Jesus is able to come and to be with us, to influence our communities, to come to the places where we live regardless of how far off they may seem from something appropriate to Christ, to redeem and to set things right.  It's a picture of a world dominated by malice, by things that cause destruction and harm, people tormented and fears that challenge us -- but He's here to put those problems in their place and render appropriate judgment, to let us know what is right and to teach us how we may be healed, even to wake us out of complacency with what is surely harmful.  The people of the town, we note, have their say.  They beg Jesus to leave.  They prefer their livelihood of the swine to the awesome change and healing in the formerly demon-possessed men.  Perhaps that was what they were used to, and leaving the men in the tombs to live a life of destruction was just acceptable.  But Christ comes to give us new ideals and values and to wake us from what is just acceptable.  Evangelization, in this image, is bringing the good news to all for each one to choose which version of life they prefer.  This is the purpose of the apostolic mission that will come and is ongoing, and we still have that choice, along with the plagues that ail and torment human beings and the violence of the world that denies that there is more to life than what we do for livelihood and material prosperity or property.  Let us make careful consideration before we dismiss this strange, even unusual, story, and consider how many elements here resemble the world in which we live today.  We still have the choice with which He presents us, and the good news He brings, whether others around us accept it, relish it, desire it, or not.  So much depends on where we choose to take our security and place our trust.




Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?


 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side.  Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go."  And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."   Then another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves.  But He was asleep.  Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us!  We are perishing!"  But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?"  Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  So the men marveled, saying, "Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"

- Matthew 8:18-27

Yesterday we read that when Jesus had entered Capernaum (after healing a leper), a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented."  And Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him."  The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.  But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.  And I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."  When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!  And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you."  And his servant was healed that same hour.  Now when Jesus had come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother lying sick with a fever.  So He touched her hand, and the fever left her.  And she arose and served them.  When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed.  And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:  "He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses."

 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side.  Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go."  And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."   The Son of Man is a term found in the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13); it is used to refer to the Messiah.  It expresses both Jesus' humanity and His divinity.  Here He refers to His human condition.   Elsewhere it describes His divine authority (25:31-33). 

Then another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead."  My study bible says here that Jesus is not negating the command to honor parents, but is rather teaching us to put the things of the Kingdom as the highest priority.  Those who ignore this priority are spiritually dead.  In both examples of the scribe, above, and this disciple, it is the things of the Kingdom which come first; even as Incarnate Son, Jesus finds Himself as One without a place to lay His head.

 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him.  And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves.  But He was asleep.  Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us!  We are perishing!"  But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?"  Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  So the men marveled, saying, "Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"  Here Christ's mastery over creation is another sign that He is the Messiah and is divine, my study bible tells us.  A command to the sea and waves could only be issued by God (Job 38:8-11; Psalm 65:5-6, 106:9).   We also see Jesus' full humanity expressed here.  He was asleep because, as human being, He needed rest.  In His Incarnation, Jesus assumed all the natural actions of the flesh, which of course includes sleep.  This image of Christ and His disciples in a boat is one traditionally used to illustrate the Church.  My study bible says, "God both permits storms and delivers us through them, so that we can see His protection more clearly."  His rebuke of the storm is also a spiritual illustration of calming the storms in the human soul.

Each of the stories contained in today's reading give us illustrations of the fearlessness asked of us that is a quality of discipleship.  That is, the natural human fears and worries that accompany the journey of discipleship, of faith, are those things we must acknowledge but not allow to hinder or stop the journey.  There is a quality of fearlessness that is also asked of us, regardless of whatever else is going on.  In putting the things of the Kingdom as first priority, there may be all kinds of ways in which we are asked to break through, override, or transcend our personal fears and concerns.  We're asked for courage in faith. Jesus first challenges the scribe to an understanding that even He has no place to lay His head, preparing him for discipleship and the sacrifices that may be asked by following Him.  He then tells a disciple that the concerns of home and family life left behind may be things of the past not required by the present path of discipleship, and left to those who still live that life.  We may not all have such stark levels of challenge to deal with, but we will all face challenges of life in learning a deeper faith.  This can apply to any number of things that we leave behind in our own faith journey, ways of life and even social concerns or former duties which are no longer top priority.  We note the vivid detail of the journey across the sea.  Jesus has commanded the disciples to go forward, even across this sea which is home to the several fishermen among the disciples.  But for them it is still strange territory; they are going to the other side, and are no longer in home waters.  The boat was covered with the waves.  Sometimes it seems that waves are all that we can see!  Our following of Christ may lead to great waves in our own lives, where all we seem to do is to make waves, to be in unfamiliar and uncharted territory, with even hostility around us.  This is a far cry from the idea that by following Christ we lead charmed or magical lives in which all goes the way we assume it "should."  Faith leads us to new places, instead.  It takes us where we likely would not have gone before.  But faith -- not our own good intentions or resolutions -- has a way of rendering us secure.  A life of prayer is that which roots us to this ship, even when we feel that Christ is asleep or not responding to us.  We anchor ourselves to this place with Him and renew our faith even when everything around us looks like it's against us.  It's a teaching that the one thing that is firm and upon which we hold as a foundation is Him.  He teaches us that it is faith, His love for us and our trust in Him, that roots us to what is truly secure -- even in a world that offers little real security in fact.   He has nowhere to lay His head; even those who are dear to us may pass and the things we thought important may take second place.  All kinds of things will arise to seemingly oppose our faith, but there is one place, one relationship in which we may take hold and place our faith and trust.  The journey will teach us greater faith, but to get there we need to face and go through our fears.   The only way to do this is through His guidance and safety, allowing His word and commands to lead the way.





Monday, May 14, 2018

Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!


 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented."  And Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him."  The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.  But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.  And I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."  When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!  And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you."  And his servant was healed that same hour.

Now when Jesus had come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother lying sick with a fever.  So He touched her hand, and the fever left her.  And she arose and served them.  When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed.  And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
"He Himself took our infirmities
And bore our sicknesses."
- Matthew 8:5-17

Yesterday we read that when Jesus had ended His Sermon on the Mount, the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.  And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean."  Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed."  Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented."  And Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him."   A centurion was a commander over 100 men in a Roman legion.  Of course, the centurion is a Gentile.  My study bible says that Jesus is the Savior of all, and in Him ethnic distinctions are void.  I will come has also been frequently understood by Greek scholars to be a question:  "Shall I come?"  Regardless of its proper reading, Jesus is ready to deal graciously with this Gentile, my study bible points out.  Jesus even is ready to enter his home, which would make Him unclean in the eyes of the Jews.  See yesterday's reading, above, in which Jesus touched the leper in order to heal him.

The centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.  But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.  And I say to this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."  The Romans rule over the Jews as colonizers.  Furthermore, within the strict hierarchy of this soldier's life there is loyalty only to Caesar.  But here this centurion expresses unusual faith in that he calls Jesus, a Jew, Lord.  In liturgical texts, his statement, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof," is frequently quoted as an ideal expression of humility.

When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!  And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you."  And his servant was healed that same hour.  There are two times in the Gospels when it's said that Jesus marveled:  at the unbelief in His hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:6), and at the belief of this foreigner, the centurion.  We note also that in His statement He nullifies any ideas of ethnic superiority.  The rejected sons of the kingdom, my study bible notes, are both the Jews who deny Christ and those raised in the Church who do not live their faith; outer darkness and weeping and gnashing are descriptions of the state of the unrighteous dead in Sheol (Hades) in the Jewish tradition (Enoch 103:8).  These are common expressions in Matthew (13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), and they also occur in Luke (Luke 13:28).

Now when Jesus had come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother lying sick with a fever.  So He touched her hand, and the fever left her.  And she arose and served them.  When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed.  And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:  "He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses."  This passage and 1 Corinthians 9:5, in which Peter is called Cephas) tell us that Peter was married.  My study bible notes that Christ's healing miracles are diverse.  Here He heals by touch.  In verse 13 (above, in the healing of the centurion's servant), He heals by a word.  This healing of Peter's mother-in-law is immediate and complete, while others are gradual (Mark 8:22-25) or they require the cooperation of the person healed or of his or her loved ones (Luke 8:54-55).  As the quotation indicates, all of Christ's miracles manifest His redemption of ailing humanity.  The prophecy fulfilled is from Isaiah 53:4.

It's interesting that the centurion is a man who clearly understands and knows power and authority, especially in a worldly sense.   It's remarkable that he states that "I am also a man under authority," in responding to Christ.  Therefore his recognition of the authority in Christ is complete, absolute in some sense, as he compares himself to Christ in clear recognition of Christ's commanding authority.  It's remarkable because, of course, the one thing people truly take away from the Sermon on the Mount is the fact that Jesus speaks with authority, and not as the scribes.  In fact, the text tells us that it is at this that the people are astonished.  Jesus marvels because the centurion understands Him in ways that Jesus has not found in all of Israel.  The Greek word for faith has at its root the meaning of "trust."  And the centurion has full confidence in Christ, full trust.  As a man under authority, who understands authority and commanding power, he is willing to put his full trust in Christ, absolute confidence.  There is a kind of recognition that happens here, and it is a recognition that shatters assumptions about ethnicity and tribe and group.  We can  see in the centurion the Gentiles who will turn to Christ as Lord in the Church.   While the Gospels generally show state power as opposed to the work of God, what we see here is a man of the state, a servant and commander in his own right, with a  heart that has been given over in complete trust to Christ.  It teaches us that whatever our skills and knowledge, all will be used in service to what it is that we love or trust, and put our faith into.  In service to Christ, there is nothing lost.  Rather, all is healed, put in right order, given its proper place, and the centurion stands as one who embodies this great strength and redemption.  It is not simply his servant who is healed, but also the centurion who stands as an example of authority under obedience to the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  The centurion can recognize what others cannot, and his life experience is rendered in service to faith in Christ, and to the Gospel.   Jesus will say of Himself, "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind" (John 9:39).   May we also be able to see as did the centurion.