Saturday, July 21, 2018

I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered


And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."  Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.  But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 

Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
'I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
"But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."  Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble"  Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"  And so said all the disciples.

- Matthew 26:26-35

Yesterday we read that on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?"  And he said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'"  So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.  When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.  Now as they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me."  And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?"  he answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.  The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."  Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?"  He said to him, "You have said it."

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body."  Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.   This is the institution of the Eucharist.  On the evening He is about to be seized and arrested, this is the long-awaited messianic banquet, to which He admits even Judas (compare to Esther 7), and seeks by all means to save him.  My study bible says that because of his wicked heart, Judas' participation leads to his condemnation (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).   In the Divine Liturgy, Jesus' words are repeated, which invite the faithful to receive His body and blood.   Holy Communion is meant to unite us to Christ.  Here Jesus gave thanks (which is from the Greek word for "eucharist").  My study bible says this is in order to teach us: first, how to celebrate the sacrament; second, that He comes willingly to His Passion; and third, to accept sufferings with thankfulness, knowing that God can use sufferings for ultimate good.  The Old Covenant was sealed with the blood of bulls and goats, but the New is sealed by the git of Christ.  He shed His own blood to conquer sin and death, and to reconcile us with God.  This Jesus calls the blood of the new covenant, which is God's promise and the fulfillment of the Law.  By new, my study bible says, Jesus means that this covenant brings immortality and incorruptible life.  We are to understand that this covenant will always have the quality of newness; this is the very nature of Christ Himself and the power of God (Revelation 21:5).

"But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.   My study bible tells us that patristic writers teach that Jesus also drinks the cup of His own Blood.  He does so in order to lead all believers into participation in His heavenly mysteries.  In My Father's kingdom relates to the time after His Resurrection, when Christ will eat and drink to show the reality of His victory over death (see Luke 24:41-43).  Moreover, it directs our understanding to the eternal banquet of the Kingdom in the age to come.

Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:  'I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'  But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee."  Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble"  Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times."  Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!"  And so said all the disciples.   Jesus quotes from the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, and He makes His own prophecy of what is to come for the disciples, particularly for Peter.  But they all deny what He tells them about themselves.

There are two extraordinary things that happen in today's reading.  The first is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ not only prepares us for this time in which we await His Return, but also initiates the presence of the Kingdom in the world, and our way of participating in it and in His very life.  The second Peter's (and the rest of the disciples') denial of Christ prophecy that Peter will deny Him three times this night.  Peter vows that this will never happen, as do the other disciples.  But it's a very important lesson for us about reliance only upon ourselves for something.  We can't really calculate all our own weaknesses.  Only Christ understands that about His disciples, and about the powerful forces that will be at play to scatter His followers; these forces are both worldly and include as well the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12, Luke 22:31).   So often we are simply unaware of our real struggles and real needs, but Jesus is not "in the dark" about the reality of the present time and the dangers that are there.  Peter, and the subsequent story of what is to come in his denial of Christ, illustrates us an important story about our own confidence in ourselves.  While confidence is generally a good thing, and our culture certainly seems to admire it or form cults around those who seem to possess it to a great degree, there are different kinds of confidence.  There is a kind of toxic side to self-confidence (if we may call it that) when we fail to understand our vulnerabilities and weaknesses as human beings, and most particularly when we are blind to our own spiritual needs.  But having confidence that comes from a spiritual orientation to Christ and His promises is a completely different kind of confidence.  It is rather a confidence in the reliance upon Christ that acknowledges vulnerability and is aware of our need for spiritual strength in faith and communion.  And therein comes the Eucharist, which Christ institutes at this Last Supper before He is taken by the authorities.  Christ institutes the Eucharist in order to initiate us into the Kingdom that is present even while we live in a world full of threats and insecurities.  He allows us through the Eucharist to participate in His very life.  He gives us strengths, confidence, and nourishment of a kind we can't find elsewhere.  He gives us what we need for confidence in Him, even as He predicts that all of His followers will be scattered, but that He will meet them again in Galilee.  He meets us in the Eucharist.  Until He returns at the Second Coming, He is with us mystically in His presence through this communion that includes all of us in His mystical connection with us; His very Body and Blood allow us to participate in Him as He also is in us (John 14:19-24).  In order to find a genuine and realistic sense of confidence and security, this is what we need for a life in a world that is never without its risks and a life in which our imperfections are part of our very nature.  Life is a learning curve, but through reliance on God we pray that we may walk in the ways that are best for us, and that even our mistakes are used to bring us closer to God and more deeply into true communion and confidence.  In this way it is truly our humility that gives us the greatest strength, the reality of wisdom, and the capacities for faith through all things.  Let us be filled with the food He offers us.






Friday, July 20, 2018

The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!


 Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?"  And he said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'"  So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.

When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.  Now as they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me."  And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?"  he answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.  The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."  Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?"  He said to him, "You have said it."

- Matthew 26:17-25

Yesterday we read that when Jesus had finished all of His teachings on the end times and the time of His Second Coming, that He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."  Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him.  But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people."  And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table.  But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste?  For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor."  But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a good work for Me.  For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.  For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."  Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?"  And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.  So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.

 Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?"  And he said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, "My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples."'"  So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.   My study bible reminds us that the Passover commemorates God's deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Land of Promise.  It prefigures the Passion of Christ, the new Passover (Pascha in the Greek), which is God's redemption of all humanity from sin and death, and entrance into the promised Kingdom.    Among the patristic commentators it is debated whether the first day of the Feast was Passover or the day before Passover.  However, it is certain that Jesus regarded this meal with the disciples to be the Passover meal.

When evening had come, He sat down with the twelve.  Now as they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me."  And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?"  he answered and said, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me.  The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born."  Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered and said, "Rabbi, is it I?"  He said to him, "You have said it."  That it is written of Him does not cancel the responsibility of Judas for his betrayal of Christ.  My study bible tells us that God foresees but does not cause the evil actions of human beings, who always have free will.  Jesus allows Judas to accuse himself, but even hearing that Christ knows of his deception, Judas does not repent.

Betrayal is something no one likes to think about.  I heard a talk by a priest who writes a regular column in a popular blog, in which he spoke about sin as essentially broken communion.  Sin breaks community.  In the context of the Mosaic Law, we can see an attempt to establish "good community," as summed up in the two greatest commandments Jesus named -- to love God with all one's heart and soul and strength, and to love neighbor as oneself.  This is a description of community, or more accurately, of communion as the love of God enables the sharing of God's nature of communion.  Betrayal is fundamentally in opposition to communion.  Betrayal is a breaking of trust.  We don't like to think about it because it stirs up every fear for our most basic needs as human beings, touching on issues that are fundamental to our well-being.  My study bible says of Judas' betrayal that it shows that religious position is worthless if not accompanied by faith and virtue.  But Judas' betrayal does more than betray Christ to the authorities who wish to put Him to death.  It breaks the communion of the disciples.  The betrayal makes it clear that even among nominal followers of Christ, hearts can betray communion and work destructively not only to betray trust but to lead people away from Christ.  Like so many of Jesus' teachings, the betrayal of Judas takes us once again to the state of the heart as the true place where faith either dwells, or does not.  Judas could carry out all Christ's commands to the satisfaction of appearance, but the heart could not follow.   There is a broken trust here, and trust is the root of faith.  The knowledge of the existence and possibility of betrayal is something revealed to us in the story of Christ and therefore in the heart of the story of our salvation.  It must inform us not only about ourselves but about the reality of the world in which we live, and in which we seek to live as members of the Kingdom, in communion with God and with one another.  It lays bare the power of our choices, and the responsibilities placed by God in human beings.  It teaches that we are given so much, and that without a right orientation to what is precious, our actions may prove exceptionally destructive.  But the very good news here that comes with this awareness is that even when the worst happens, God's work is not thwarted.  The betrayal itself, and the Crucifixion and death, will all come into play as instrument in our salvation with Resurrection.  The worst damage that human beings can do to break communion may in fact remain, in God's hands, an instrument of a greater redemption for those who love God (see Romans 8:28).  Do we have the faith to put all things into God's hands, even at the moment of terrible betrayal, our worst fears realized?  Christ will show us the way, and how to follow Him.   With faith, our communion remains; our God meets us even in our tragedies and the sadness of human failure and sin.  We just need to find God's way in the midst of the brokenness.




Thursday, July 19, 2018

Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me


 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."  Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him.  But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people."

And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table.  But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste?  For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor."  But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a good work for Me.  For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.  For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?"  And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.  So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.

- Matthew 26:1-16

 In yesterday's reading, Jesus gave His final summation in the discourse on the end times, and the time of His Second Coming:  "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'  And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuh as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'  Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?'  Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'  And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."  Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him.  But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people."   My study bible comments that Jesus is delivered up to His Passion by His accusers, but He goes willingly.  Unless He had willed to go, His accusers could never have taken Him.  After His Resurrection, many saints imitated Christ by willingly going to martyrdom.

And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table.  But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste?  For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor."  But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman?  For she has done a good work for Me.  For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.  For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial.  Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her."  My study bible says that Jesus accepts this honor from the woman in her newly found faith.  He particularly accepts it as a sign of His coming burial.  St. John Chrysostom comments that the disciples were not mistaken in principle:  a mercy shown to the poor is more fitting than outward signs shown even to God (25:40; James 1:27).   But they did not understand that once the gift had been given, it was a greater mercy to accept it with love.  He writes, "IF anyone had asked Christ before the woman did this, He would not have approved it.  But after she had done it, He looks only to the gift itself.  For after the fragrant oil had been poured, what good was a rebuke?  Likewise, if you should see anything providing a sacred vessel or ornament for the walls of the church, do not spoil his zeal.  But if beforehand he asks about it, command him to give instead to the poor."  Simon the leper must have been healed by Jesus earlier, as lepers were forbidden to live in towns.  Because of her faith, Jesus promises perpetual public memory of this woman.  My study bible notes that there is no consensus as to her identity in relation to accounts of similar events in Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-38; and John 12:1-8.  Some patristic commentators say that there were three different women in these four accounts, others that there were only two.

Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?"  And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.  So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him.  On his own initiative, Judas seeks to betray Jesus.  While his motives have been historically debated, both patristic writers and the liturgical hymns in the Eastern Church declare that greed was his primary motive, following John 12:4-6, in which John states that Judas was particularly upset about the "waste" of myrrh in the preceding story because he was a thief (see also 1 Timothy 6:10).   The phrase used here, one of the twelve, is not used in order to identify Judas (already known to Matthew's hearers) but rather to emphasize the depth of betrayal  -- that it was one of Christ's closest followers.

The extravagance of this anointing of Christ perhaps tells us a deeper story than meets the eye.  The suggestion that the money should have gone to the poor ignores the fact that Christ Himself is poor -- poor not only in the immediate sense in which we think about a lack of wealth or goods, but poor also in the sense that He is about to endure a terrible suffering and death, and that He will undergo misery and anguish.  As such this act of gratitude on the part of the woman can also be seen as an act of compassion.  Just as Jesus says, she has done a good work for Him, she has anointed His body for burial.  When we use our compassion, when we follow the heart of gratitude and love, our acts may work in ways that are even mysterious to us.  We could even consider the idea that this anointing by the woman is a kind of healing balm for Jesus, one that is in full acceptance of the Cross, and yet anointing with a kind of honor in preparation for His burial.  At least, this seems to be the way that Christ sees it.  Compassionate behavior works in this strange way, in that it stands out from the norm, the accepted way of understanding charity.  St. John Chrysostom says that the objection in favor of donation to the poor is not wrong in principle, but John's Gospel tells us it is made by Judas as he kept the money and stole from the treasury.  But what is noticeable in this story is not the objection, but Jesus' rebuke in front of the rest of the disciples.  Here that rebuke is general, but if the objection came specifically from Judas, the rebuke would be perceived in response to him personally.  As such, the failure to take Jesus' correction in a humble way is another sign of pride and lack of real discipleship.  This woman understands fully Jesus' love, but Judas fails to grasp it or understand it for himself.  Discipleship is more than following a Teacher, it is understanding the love of Christ and sharing in it.  Jesus will give a final command to the disciples at the Last Supper, to "love one another as I have loved you" (Jesus repeats this command three times in John's Gospel).  St. Paul writes of the fruits of the Spirit, which include love, "against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).  This woman's act of compassion and gratitude is born of love, and therefore not subject to the usual ways by which we judge.  It is not efficient and not nominally given to the "right people" we define as poor.  But it is an act of love and true faith, and therefore challenges us to broaden our understanding of what our faith is and does.  Moreover, it is deeply personal, as are all the stories we read of Christ when He is "moved with compassion."  Compassion calls us out of ourselves and into a complete understanding of what it is to love another as ourselves.  Let us seek to love as He commands, with the extravagance of gratitude.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?


 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'  And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuh as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'  Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?'  Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'  And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." 

- Matthew 25:31-46

 In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught:  "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.  And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.  Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.  And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.  But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money.  After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.'  His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.'  Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours.'  But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.  So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.  Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.  For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory."  Today's reading is described by my study bible as the majestic climax of Christ's discourse to His disciples on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end time, including His Second Coming and Judgment.   This is not simply a parable, but a prophecy of the universal judgment Christ assures us will come.  My study bible says that since the Cross is now near to Him, Jesus raises the hearer to the sight of the glory of the Son of Man on His judgment seat and the whole world before Him.  The standard of judgment, it says, is uncalculated mercy toward others.  Here Jesus emphasizes the works that are produced by faith; saving faith produces righteous works.  The things we do reflect our true inner state.  When Christ refers to the least in the parable, He refers to all the poor and the needy.  The needs described in this parable include both physical and spiritual needs.  Therefore, the hungry or thirsty are not only those who need food and drink, but also those who hunger and thirst for the hope of the gospel.

"All the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left."  Christ uses sheep to illustrate the righteous, because they follow His voice and are gentle and productive.  Goats indicate the unrighteous, a they do not follow the shepherd and they walk along cliffs, which symbolize sin.

"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: . . . "   Inherit is a term that is used with regard to sons and daughters, as opposed to stranger or servants.  The righteous become children of God by adoption (Galatians 4:4-7).

" . . . for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'  And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuh as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'"   To see Christ in everyone, according to my study bible, is the fulfillment of the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (22:39). 

"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'  Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?'  Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'  And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."   My study bible says that the fact that the fire was prepared for the devil shows that God did not create hell for man.  Rather, people choose this torment by their coldness of heart.

Jesus speaks about what we've done, and what we've left undone.  In the case of the sheep, the deeds here are those things that they have done.  There is a positive movement in the actions that reflect faith.  It is a reflection of Jesus' teaching of the golden rule:  "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (7:12).  This is a positive statement of good actions.  In the Jewish spiritual tradition, there is a teaching of this rule in a negative or prohibitive form:  "What you yourself hate, do not do to anyone" (Tobit 4:15).  This is also, of course, an essential teaching for all of us.  But in Jesus' telling of this parable, it is the failure to act positively on our faith that puts us in the wrong.  It is the neglect of the good that is shown here.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, there is another illustration that positive action renders us true "neighbors."  While there is plenty of prohibitive teaching in Jesus' sermons and commandments, the emphasis here asks us to go beyond refraining from doing what is harmful, and to deliberately seek to do good, to exercise compassion and active love as a product of our faith.  It is important to keep in mind that Jesus' parable in today's reading comes within the context, and as a great summation of the end times, His Second Coming, and the Judgment.  It is given to us as His disciples, preparing us for the real test of this time, and in the context of the rest of His discourse, encouraging us to positive and courageous action in expression of our faith.  Let us note this is not simply making a laundry list of good deeds to do.  Rather, it is an encouragement to live the love that comes from seeking God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love neighbor as oneself.  It is about living the love we're given in our hearts through our faith, with positive actions that express this grace of love.  The real question is how we express who we are in our faith.  The fruits of the Spirit, which are all aspects of love, are just like what we make of our talents (see the parable in yesterday's reading above).  Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are all gifts of the Spirit as named by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23.  Love is described by St. Paul as also doing and not doing several things, namely:  "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).   This is not an abstract concept or philosophy, nor a set of rules divorced from the depths of identity.  It is in this respect that the things we do bear out these realities of the spirit and soul, who we are in union with God through faith.  He encourages to fully express that identity, the talents we're given, in the explicit ways in which we're called to do so, in the fullness of God's love at work in us.  This kind of faith also includes discernment and watchfulness.  We are to be known by the fruits we bear, the light we shine.  There is no divide between faith and works; they are to be part of the whole of the love of God and neighbor, and none of the fullness of our lives is left out of that equation.  Let us also keep in mind Jesus' earlier parable in this discourse, teaching us that we are servants in care of our fellow servants.  His final and new command is that we are to love one another, as He has loved us.  











Tuesday, July 17, 2018

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them


 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.  And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.  Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.  And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.  But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money.  After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.'  His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.'  Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours.'  But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.  So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.  Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.  For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

- Matthew 25:14-30

In our recent readings, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the end times, and the time of His Second Coming.  In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught:  "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.  And at midnight a cry was heard:  'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!'  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.'  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'  But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'  But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."

 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.  And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.  Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.  And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.  But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money.  After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.'  His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your lord.'  Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours.'  But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.  So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.  Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.  For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness.  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"   My study bible says that this parable illustrates the use of gifts given by God.  We need to understand that even one talent, at the time of Christ, was a great sum of money.  But here in Jesus' parable it represents the goodness that God has given to each person.  The amount that each receives is based on that person's abilities (Romans 12:4-7).  In the ultimate reward however, God does not show partiality, as all are invited to share in the same joy.  The wicked and lazy servant, on the other hand, could not evade responsibility for ignoring his talent.  My study bible says that idleness is as much a rejection of God as outright wickedness.  To bury the talent in the ground is an illustration of using one's God-given gifts for earthly pursuits.  The bankers represent other faithful people to whom the man could have turned to help him use talents wisely.  As there is help available in the Church and from its wealth of traditions, the man hasn't got an excuse.

What are talents, really?  What are they for?  We tend to think of talents as things that are worthwhile only if we can parlay them into some form of remuneration, something profitable in our own lives that can generate an income.  While it's naturally appropriate that we each need to consider our way in the world, it's also appropriate to consider ourselves as people of faith.  Even making our way in the world still comes under the heading of living our lives as those who love God.  How do we reconcile the two?  It's important to recognize that spiritual growth, and the growth of virtue in terms of our relationship to God and to neighbor, isn't really left out of any part of our lives.  Our lives aren't divided up into the life we live as faithful and then a separate life as part of "the world" (6:24).   It's all part of a whole.  What serves our faith life is also good for the rest of our lives.  God gives us talents to learn to develop and to express, and it can indeed be mysterious how those talents serve God's purposes.  What gets to be truly confusing and slavish is thinking that our lives are simply about plugging into what's available in the world, and not about a wholistic sense of the God who knows all the things we need but who also creates us as individuals with particular gifts.  One may have a gift of intelligence for a particular subject, another may love car engines, still another a passion for creating order.  Even our gifts for humility may serve us well in terms of how we express ourselves and even make a living in the world.   One may find that an intensive prayer life actually helps us to create and find the gifts and talents that help us in the rest of our lives.  Prayer can nurture talents in a number of ways, helping us to focus, to calm anxieties, to put into perspective insights into our lives, and to order our lives.   What the parable seems to suggest to us is that burying who we truly are, ways in which God has blessed us with gifts in one way or another, is the truly great sin.  Splitting our lives into the things we need to do in the world and neglecting the internal life where we find God's gifts isn't effective in terms of living the full and spiritually profitable life we need.  This fullness of life comes from finding ourselves within that relationship to God who created us and blessed us with innate capacities.  Let us turn to our Source to help us to find true talent and capabilities and ways to develop them as we are called to in each of our lives, for God's purposes.  We might be highly surprised at the capacities we find and talents we may multiply and use in our lives, with God's help.  What we trust in God to do is lead us to use our skills for God's purposes.  In the context of Jesus' discourse on end times and His Second Coming, we understand that this is our direction for being truly good servants, caring for all that God has placed in our charge.




Monday, July 16, 2018

Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom


 "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.  And at midnight a cry was heard:  'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!'  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.'  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'  But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'  But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."

- Matthew 25:1-13

 Om Saturday, we read that Jesus taught His disciples, "Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near -- at the doors!  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two men will be in the field:  one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill:  one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?  Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.  Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.  But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

  "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.  And at midnight a cry was heard:  'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!'  Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.'  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'  But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.  Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'  But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."  My study bible says that this parable illustrates the need for being spiritually prepared while the bridegroom -- Christ -- is delayed in His return.  The Kingdom is frequently portrayed as a marriage (22:1-14) between Christ and His Church.  This marriage will be consummated at the end of the age (the subject of Christ's discussion with His disciples over the past several readings, beginning with Thursday's).  It is then that the Bridegroom returns to escort His Bride, that is, the Church, to the eternal wedding banquet.  My study bible adds that this parable is primarily about the virtue of charity and almsgiving.  In Greek the words for olive oil and mercy sound alike and have the same root.  The wise virgins therefore, with lamps full of this oil, are those who practice charity and mercy in life; the foolish are those who squander God's gifts on themselves.    All the virgins slumbered and slept; this is symbolic of death -- the virtuous and wicked will both die in our world.  The cry at midnight is language symbolic of the Second Coming, when all will arise together for judgment.  That the righteous are unable to share their oil is an illustration of first of all the inability to enter the Kingdom without one's own faith and virtue, and secondly, my study bible says, the impossibility of changing one's state of virtue after death (see Luke 16:26).

 Whatever way we look at this parable, one thing is clear:  Jesus is telling this to us in preparation for the time in which we now live, in which we are to be faithful servants (see Saturday's reading, above) while we await His return.  As disciples, we are like virgins awaiting the Bridegroom; our goal is to remain "acceptable" and in good order for the wedding feast.  What exactly does this mean?  Acceptable in this context would belong to the sense in which St. Paul uses it in Romans 12:1-2:  "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."   In this case, acceptable means well-pleasing.   Jesus has prepared us for this understanding with the parable of the Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant in Saturday's reading, above, in which it is clear that what He seeks is our following of His commandments, and in particular those commandments to treat one another well -- to love God with all one's heart and mind and soul, and one's neighbor as oneself.  In that parable, Jesus stressed that the one He's made ruler of His household while He's away has to be one who gives food to the servants in due season.  In today's parable He indicates that a part of that food is mercy, grace.  The oil of the lamp is the balm of mercy, healing, grace.  All of these things become synonymous in both language and symbol, as the same olive oil was the base for all healing unguents and even for the fragrant oil with which Christ was anointed in love and gratitude before burial in this passage.  To love God with all our heart and mind and soul is to seek to be like God, to reflect and grow in God's character of love.  We're given a panoply of illustrations through Jesus' words what that means through this simple symbol of oil that means so much.  This practice of grace, mercy, love is the fuel with which our lamps shine as His disciples, through which we may find our way to the Bridegroom.  Let us pay attention!


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?


 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near -- at the doors!  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two men will be in the field:  one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill:  one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

"Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?  Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.  Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.  But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

- Matthew 24:32-51

In the past two readings, Jesus has begun teaching about end times, and the destruction of the temple with war to come in Jerusalem.  In yesterday's reading, He told His disciples, "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.  For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.  Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.  Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it.  For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.  Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

 "Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near -- at the doors!  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."  My study bible says that this generation refers to all believers at all times, the generation of the Church, and not merely those alive at the time of Christ.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."   St. John Chrysostom suggests that Jesus says the angels are unaware of the precise day of His return "so that men should not seek to learn what angels do not know," and to forbid them not only from learning the day, but from even inquiring about it.  In accordance with Mark 13:32, and Chrysostom's Matthew text, Jesus declares that the Son also does not know the day of His own return.   Chrysostom teaches that this isn't to be taken literally but is rather a figure of speech.  Rather it means that Christ, although He revealed all the signs that will accompany His return, will not reveal the exact day to anyone, and that believers should not be so brazen as to inquire of Him.  

"For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two men will be in the field:  one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill:  one will be taken and the other left."  My study bible points out that the second coming of Christ will entail a sudden revelation of judgment.  One will be taken to heaven and the other left.  This separation of the saints from the wicked, it says, will occur at the coming of the Son of Man according to the text, and not as some teach today, at a certain time before His second coming.

"Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."  What's the purpose in Christ's discourse on this subject?  It is not to make people experts on end-time prophecy, but to tell us that we must watch and be ready -- continuing in virtue, my study bible says, and obeying Christ's commandments.

"Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?  Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.  Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.  But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  Here's Christ's illustration of our lives in this time, as we await His return.  We're to remember the that we're servants of the Master, and treat our fellow servants and conduct our own lives according to His instructions.  The repeated stress is on the fact that we don't know when He'll return.  Moreover, He repeatedly emphasizes that it will be at a time we're not aware of.

The unexpected quality of Christ's return is something Jesus vividly and repeatedly teaches us.  He urges us to really understand that not only is the hour unknown, but explicitly says that He's coming at a time we're not going to be aware nor looking for it.  The tone of these warnings is to give us pause, to pull us up short, and to consider right here and right now where our focus is.  To teach us about the end time is not to prepare us in the sense that we can anticipate a time or an event and plan for it.  Rather, the intention here is to tell us to focus on what is at hand and how we're living our lives, because no one knows that day and hour -- least of all us!    On the contrary, Jesus' teaching has the effect of teaching us that every moment counts:  there is no spare time to waste in our lives, and each moment is significant.  As servants, we're given the image that we always have a job to do, duties and responsibilities, commands to follow.  He specifically mentions the duty "to give them food in due season."  Let us consider that He's speaking to His disciples, including the apostles who will go out to all the world preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God.  So, as servants of the Master, how do we give our fellow servants food in due season?   Moreover, He proclaims another kind of beginning of creation as with Adam in Eden:  He's put us in charge of His household (whom his master made ruler over his household).   How do we feed others, and with what?  We're reminded here of the Lord's Prayer request:  "Give us this day our daily bread."  The word translated as "daily" really means something much more, and was apparently coined just for the prayer as it doesn't appear in any other literature or anywhere else.  It means "supersubstantial" or "above the substance" or perhaps even more literally, "supernatural" -- it's the bread that is the food of eternal and true life, that extra substance that we need because we do not live by bread alone (4:4).  Connecting the passages, we can't help but understand that Christ is asking us -- not only as fellow servants, but as those whom He's put in charge of His household -- to feed all those for whom we bear some responsibility in community with this bread that gives life, His word.  Moreover, we are to do this by living the lives He asks of us, following His commands ourselves.  His household is to be ruled with compassion and wisdom, humility and grace.  He asks of us alertness and care.  The opposite is selfishness, abuse, exploitation.   How do we stand as those whom He's put in charge of His household?  What's on the list to do today?



Friday, July 13, 2018

As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be


 "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.  For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.  Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.  Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it.  For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."

- Matthew 24:15-31

Yesterday we read that Jesus went out and departed from the temple in Jerusalem, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things?  Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.  Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"  And Jesus answered and said to them:  "Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.  Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.  And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."

 "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes."  Daniel's prophecy of the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:23) was fulfilled in AD 70, when the Roman general Titus entered the Most Holy Place and had a statue of himself erected in the temple, before having the temple destroyed.  My study bible explains that the Lord's phrase when you see indicates that many of the disciples  would still be alive at that time.  It adds that the words whoever reads, let him understand are commonly understood to have been inserted by Matthew as an encouragement to his early Christian flock, who may have witnessed this event.

"But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!"  My study bible cites Luke 23:29 here, as a similar reference by Christ to what is coming in Jerusalem.  It's an expression and acknowledgement of the pain endured at seeing one's children suffering.  A nursing mother's life is concerned with care for her child, but an inability to save the child is understood here by Christ in its terrible pain.  One cannot help but consider the knowledge of His own mother's experience that is soon to come.

"And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.  For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened."  The severity of winter weather or respect for the Sabbath would prevent many people from quickly fleeing in a time of desperation. Jesus' emphasis here is clearly on the desperate need for escape at this time, and the terrible reality of the circumstances.  My study bible notes that there is a patristic spiritual interpretation given to this passage, which sees the Sabbath as symbolizing idleness with regard to virtue, and winter as indicating fruitlessness with regard to charity.  Therefore, the person who departs this life in such a spiritual state, it says, will suffer judgment.

"Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.  Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it.  For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together."  Jesus speaks here about His return, the Second Coming.  He does this chiefly for clarity in the terrible circumstances under which they experience suffering and will be susceptible to those who falsely claim His return.  My study bible says that the manner in which He states He will come back clearly suggests an event that will be unmistakable to the whole world -- and that is there is any question or doubt, this alone is evidence that He has not returned.  As Christ's return will shine from the east, so Orthodox and other Christians worship facing eastward whenever possible, in symbolic hope and anticipation of His second and glorious coming.

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."  Here Jesus continues to speak about the time of His return.  According to patristic commentators, the sun will not be destroyed but rather darkened in relation to the glory of Christ.  In other words, the sun will appear to be dark by comparison when Christ returns in the fullness of His splendor.

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."  My study bible says that the sign of the Son of Man is the Cross, which will be revealed as the standard for Christ's impending judgment.  While at His first coming, Christ came in humility and mortality, at His second coming, He will be revealed in power and great glory.  (See also St. Paul's description at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

What will it be like when Christ returns?  I don't think we can have a way of understanding that, save to say that what we are given here is the understanding that it will be unmistakable, instant, and clear to everyone.  These are the clues that we have been given. But it is also important to understand the context in which these descriptions are given.  Jesus is first of all intent upon enforcing to His disciples that they should not be fooled by false christs, false reports of His return, or false prophets.  He gives them an understanding of His return so that they are not deceived in desperate circumstances in which they face great hardship.  Secondly, we are to understand this critical warning of what is to come in Jerusalem.  He is emphatically urging them to flee at the first sign of the wars that are coming, and to pray that this does not come at particular times which will cause even greater hardship.  There are those who teach that it is because of His warnings that many survived from the early Church at Jerusalem after the destruction of the city.  But there is a deeper truth here we can read into the text.  The Siege of Jerusalem will mark not simply the end of one age, but the beginning of another which in itself is the "end time."  It is, in spiritual perspective, all of a whole.  We remain in this time, and we await His return.  We live with the problems today that He names, with uncertainties and seemingly ever larger and more widespread warfare even as we progress industrially.  As such, He gives us a kind of roadmap for our faith in the time in which we live:  we await His return but we live in the here and the now.   Our focus should be on following His commands and living the life He has taught, and not on when exactly that will happen.  His assurance to us that it will happen in an unmistakable way gives us the freedom to consider how we best live out our faith even in the midst of difficulties.



Thursday, July 12, 2018

He who endures to the end shall be saved


 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things?  Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"  And Jesus answered and said to them:  "Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.

"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.  And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."

- Matthew 24:1-14

Over the past three days, we have read Jesus' final sermon, delivered in the temple at Jerusalem.  (See Monday's and Tuesday's readings for the first two parts of this sermon.)  In yesterday's reading, Jesus preached, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.'  Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt.  Serpents, brood of vipers!  How can you escape the condemnation of hell?  Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes:  some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.  O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See!  Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'"

 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things?  Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."    This prophecy of the destruction of the temple was fulfilled in AD 70, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans.  True to the prophesy, not one stone of the temple was left upon another.  Only a small portion of an outer retaining wall was to remain, known as the Western Wall.

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"  And Jesus answered and said to them:  "Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows."   From these verses through verse 35, which we'll read over the course of the next two readings, Jesus speaks of the end times.  My study bible says that as the Scriptures describe the end times in a variety of ways, there is no precise chronology can be determined (see Daniel 7-12; Mark 13; Luke 21; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10; and the Book of Revelation).  But Christ's emphasis here is plain for us to understand and take to heart:  He stresses watchfulness and the practice of virtue, rather than constructing timetables of things that haven't yet happened.  In Matthew, the end is described as encompassing the initial sorrows (today's reading), the great tribulation, and the coming of the Son of Man.  My study bible tells us that the period of the great tribulation includes the entire Christian era, and is not limited to the final years before Christ's return.  Here in our passage, the warnings against deception are given great emphasis by Jesus.  He particularly warns us against following a false Christ, and He repeats this warning twice (vv. 11, 23-27).  The wars here, according to my study bible, refer first and foremost to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, but they also include subsequent wars.  Wars, it notes, are not a sign of the imminent end, but of the opposite -- that the end is not yet (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).

"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake.  And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."    My study bible says here that all these calamities and all this opposition cannot stop the spread of the gospel, and indeed, persecutions against the Church often increase the number of souls being converted.  It adds that St. John Chrysostom marvels that while the Romans subdued countless Jews in a political uprising; they could not prevail over twelve Jews unarmed with anything except the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My study bible makes it clear that we still live in the era that Christ is speaking about in today's reading.  Indeed, "end times" really lives on a kind of spectrum, and is not limited to one set of circumstances at a particularly denoted time.  It is the age in which we live, initiated by Christ's Incarnation into the world, that is the true "end time."  True to God's own timetable and perspective, the age in which we live manifests its "end times" with echoes of Christ's words throughout the time of the end and the period in which we live, in which "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations."  Jesus speaks of the difficulties of being one of His followers, the tribulations that will follow.  It's not just persecution He warns us about, but also of false prophets in our own midst, and even betrayal, hatred, offenses -- even lawlessness, and that "the love of many will grow cold."  What a terrible scenario!  One might wonder how He could preach such things to His followers and still have a following.    Quite a different perspective than market research would indicate will draw followers.  But His word to us is to endure to the end, and that takes faith.  It takes our ability to bear our own crosses, even those things that are neither fair nor just, that may be placed upon us by a hostile world that doesn't accept nor understand Him.  The cross we bear may be a kind of unjust humiliation like His.  But He calls us to faith, forbearance, and discernment.   We're to be watchful, above all else, and to live in preparation for His return. 







Wednesday, July 11, 2018

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem


 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.'  Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt.  Serpents, brood of vipers!  How can you escape the condemnation of hell?  Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes:  some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See!  Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'"

- Matthew 23:27-39

In the past two days, we've been reading Jesus' final sermon, which took place in the temple at Jerusalem after several confrontations with the leadership.  We began reading the sermon on Monday.  Yesterday we read that Jesus continued, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you nether go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.  Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.  Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.'  Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?  And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.'  Fools and blind!  For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.  He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.  And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law:  justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.  Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also."

 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."  Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees focuses on their hypocrisy.   Their emphasis is on outward appearance, but He questions their corruptions and greed, which has made its way into some of their practices, against the intent of the Law.  Here the emphasis is on the inner life of the heart, every person's need to know themselves and to discard what is not worthy of humility before God and true righteousness in relation to others.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.'  Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt.  Serpents, brood of vipers!  How can you escape the condemnation of hell?  Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes:  some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation."  Jesus plainly names these men as included in those to whom He referred in the parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (see this reading).  He calls them the latest in a long line of those who persecuted the prophets and refused to listen to God's call back to Himself.  He also speaks to the future when He refers to prophets, wise men, and scribes who will be sent.  Some patristic commentators say that the Zechariah Jesus refers to was the prophet at the time of Joash the king (2 Chronicles 24:20-22), and others teach that it refers to the father of St. John the Baptist, who, according to tradition, was also murdered in the temple.  We note that once again Jesus uses the phrase earlier used for these men by John the Baptist (3:7; see also 12:34).

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See!  Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'"  Jesus mourns over Jerusalem, and here we see an interesting metaphor.  Jesus images Himself as a mother hen, gathering her brood.  But instead of chicks, it is a brood of vipers, full of rejection. 

Even in the midst of condemnation, Jesus gives us an image of God's love:  a mother hen who wishes only to protect and gather her children under her wings.  Let us rejoice at this loving and maternal image we are given at this moment of condemnation, and understand our God more fully, as well as the nature of God's love for us.  Let us note the balance we have in Christ, of images both maternal and paternal.  Not only that, but Jesus also refers to God's love and God's nature when He says, "How often I wanted to gather your children together . . ." (emphasis mine).  In other words, the nature of God's love is to return again and again, even pleading, with open arms, but it is human beings who refuse and are not willing.  In a real sense, we are given here God's own image of God, a rare glimpse at the internal character of God.  How many of us understand this kind of love for ourselves, and know God this way?  This maternal image is a reframing of the repeated sending of prophets, wise men, and scribes to the leaders of the people.  It frames the image He gives us in the parable of the Wicked Vindressers and the repeated sending of servants, until finally the son is sent, as the pleas of a mother who is concerned for her children.  It should give us pause to know that this image is given to us at the moment of condemnation, at the time when the Son/son is about to be murdered through manipulation by those in charge of the spiritual welfare of the people.  Finally, this appeal is to all the people, the whole of the Holy City, and God's love is for all.  My study bible says here that God's deepest desire is the reconciliation of His people, yet most do not want Him.  The image of the desolate house can be used to mean "family" or "tribe" (see Psalm 115:12; 135:19).   The indication here is that both the temple and the nation will be without God's presence once Christ departs.  This is like a mother's statement of  letting go of her rebellious, refusing children -- until, He says, the time of His return.  At this time He begins to openly reveal Himself in His identity as Son.  St. Chrysostom writes:  "This is the language of one that loves earnestly. He is poignantly appealing to them in relation to the judgment that is to come. He is not merely warning them concerning their past follies. He is now speaking of the future day of his second coming."  Gods' love is ever-present to us as well; let us each take His words to heart for all of us.