Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone


 Then they came again to Jerusalem.  And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him.  And they said to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things?  And who gave You this authority to do these things?"  But Jesus answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?  Answer Me."  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men'" -- they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed.  So they answered and said to Jesus, "We do not know."  And Jesus answered and said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

Then He began to speak to them in parables:  "A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower.  And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers.  And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated.  And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some.  Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, 'They will respect my son.'   But those vinedressers said among themselves, 'This is the heir.  come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'  So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not even read this Scripture:
'The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD'S doing, 
And it is marvelous in our eyes'?"
And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them.  So they left Him and went away. 

- Mark 11:27-12:12

Yesterday we read that the next day after the Triumphal Entry, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.  And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it.  When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again."  And His disciples heard it.  So they came to Jerusalem.  Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.   Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'?  But you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.  When evening had come, He went out of the city.  Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look!  The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."  So Jesus answered and said to the, "Have faith in God.  For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

 Then they came again to Jerusalem.  And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him.  And they said to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things?  And who gave You this authority to do these things?"  But Jesus answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things:  The baptism of John -- was it from heaven or from men?  Answer Me."  And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?'  But if we say, 'From men'" -- they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed.  So they answered and said to Jesus, "We do not know."  And Jesus answered and said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."  Jesus is challenged as to His authority to cleanse the temple; that is, to drive out the commercial dealers and vendors from the temple, the money changers and those who sold animals (see yesterday's reading, above).  My study bible notes Jesus' technique of argument with these people; He is careful not to reveal Himself to scoffers, to those who will simply attempt to belittle or deny whatever truth He is telling them.  Instead He confounds them with a different question about John.  Both the question of the elders and also Christ's question require the same answer; therefore it would lead the respondent to confess that Jesus has come from heaven.  My study bible adds that by not answering them directly, Christ teaches us not to answer people who come asking about holy things with a malicious intent.

 Then He began to speak to them in parables:  "A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower.  And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country  Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers.  And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated.  And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some.  Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, 'They will respect my son.'   But those vinedressers said among themselves, 'This is the heir.  come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'  So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard.  Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do?  He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others.  Have you not even read this Scripture:  'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  This was the LORD'S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?"  And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them.  So they left Him and went away. In this parable, the man who planted the vineyard represents God the Father.  The vineyard itself is God's people.  The vinedressers are those who are entrusted to care for the people, the religious leadership.  Every servant who is sent by the owner represents a prophet of the Old Testament, who comes to call people back to God.  The son, the owner's beloved, is Christ Himself.  The vinedressers killed the son and cast him out of the vineyard, inferring that the story of the Son will go to others to whom the vineyard will be given; these are are the Gentiles brought into the Church.  Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:22-23, a psalm which tells of the overthrow of hostile superior force through God's help.

We should keep in mind that Jesus knows that He will be crucified while He is speaking to these men.  He knows they will be plotting against Him, and even that they will use the power of the Roman state to do so.   But nevertheless Jesus acts with His own full authority, and in debating with these men, He gives away nothing of His authority, but instead acts in accordance with the truths He embodies.  Elsewhere, in the Sermon on the Mount, He teaches, "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces" (Matthew 7:6).  This teaching is given in the context of useful corrections within the Church, and He makes Himself clear as to whether or not a teaching is useful.  While these religious leaders in the temple -- the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders -- cannot be called dogs nor swine, they nevertheless have so much contempt for Christ that they will not truly listen to what He has to teach.  There is no point in casting His pearls of wisdom before them, revealing His true identity, for they wish to destroy Him.  They see Him as competition, a threat to their positions.  While what is important to Christ is not Himself, per se, it is the truth He is here to reveal and give to us that matters:  "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come" - Matthew 12:32.  The truth He is here to give, including that of His own identity, is real, it matters.  It is a substance deeply necessary for the healing and salvation of the world, and necessary also so that a final reconciliation and dispensation can be made, so that Judgment can take place.  This is one key to why important spiritual truths are not revealed to scoffers:  their rejection will endanger themselves spiritually.  In this case, these men are those who are the most prepared to accept and to recognize Christ.  They are the experts in Scripture, they know thoroughly the spiritual history of Israel and therefore the work of the Holy Spirit.  Their rejection is therefore all the more profound, and in this case Christ chooses His response, knowing what is going to happen at the end of the week.  He will not relinquish His truth, but that means He will not simply hand these men the answers they demand.  I would also suggest that His answer is designed, yet again, to make them think, and to remind them of the danger they court through rejection of Christ.  Truly, the parable reveals this explicitly to them, but they respond only with outrage.  There are times in our own lives when we may be in such a position:  we are telling the truth, but others who surround us are ready to condemn.  In this case, Christ's ultimate dignity -- which is really a form of standing in truth -- remains as our teaching.  Let us endeavor to remain humble as He does, rooted in the truths that God gives us, and also the demeanor we are commanded to bear, as we face the reality of our lives and accept the cup God gives us in faith.  What is important to Jesus is not His own interest in a selfish sense, but to bear the responsibility for the work of the Kingdom that must go into the world, a higher truth, a bigger plan.





Tuesday, February 19, 2019

And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses


Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.  And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it.  When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again."  And His disciples heard it.

So they came to Jerusalem.  Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.   Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'?  But you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.  When evening had come, He went out of the city.

Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look!  The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."  So Jesus answered and said to the, "Have faith in God.  For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

- Mark 11:12-26

Yesterday we read that when Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, "God into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat.  Loose it and bring it.  And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it.' and immediately he will send it here."  So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it.  But some of those who stood there said to them, "What are you doing, loosing the colt?"  And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded.  So they let them go.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it.  And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:  "Hosanna!  'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'  Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!"  And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple.  So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.  And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it.  When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  In response Jesus said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you ever again."  And His disciples heard it.   This is an example, or illustration, or Christ in His role as Judge.   That it was not the season for figs means that this fig tree had sprouted an unseasonably early full foliage, which would indicate a first crop.  But it didn't bear any fruit.  Jesus, finding that there isn't even one fig, condemns it.  In Scripture, my study bible says, a fig tree is often a symbol of Israel (Hosea 9:10).  This fig tree is like the people who reject His ministry or perhaps particularly the religious leadership who plot against Him rather than recognize Him; their fruitfulness has ceased, and so the Kingdom will be taken away and given to another people, called to bear spiritual fruit (see Matthew 21:43, Galatians 5:22-23).

So they came to Jerusalem.  Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.   Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'?  But you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"  And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.  When evening had come, He went out of the city.   Those who bought and sold traded in live animals which would be used for sacrifices.  At Passover (which season this is now at this point in the Gospel), pilgrims would come to purchase animals so they could make the proper sacrifices for themselves and their families.  The money changers traded Roman coins for Jewish coins.  Roman coins bore the image of Caesar, in whose name the coins were minted, and therefore were considered to be defiling in the temple.  My study bible comments that the cleansing of the temple points to the necessity that the Church be kept free from earthly pursuits.  It notes that as each person is considered to be a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19), it is also as sign that our hearts and minds must be cleansed of earthly matters.  Jesus quotes from the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, who repeatedly called the people back to God in preparation for Christ's Incarnation (Isaiah 56:7, Jeremiah 7:11).

Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.  And Peter, remembering, said to Him, "Rabbi, look!  The fig tree which You cursed has withered away."  So Jesus answered and said to the, "Have faith in God.  For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them."  My study bible explains that the cursing and withering of the fig tree is a prophetic act, which signifies the judgment of Israel.  It adds that the disciples need to learn that the old covenant with Israel is becoming "obsolete" and will "vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13).  They will go on to establish His Church, which will ultimately be filled with both Gentiles and Jews, and they need assurance that they will be following His will.  The fig tree will remain indelibly as an image in their minds.  Jesus relates the withering of the fig tree to the power of prayer and the authority of God which is linked to individuals through the communion of faith.  This is not a magical practice and not about the power of positive thinking or affirmations!  This is a call to the depth of faith, and the deep desire and willingness in us to follow God's will.  It is also an exposition on spiritual fruitfulness, and a prayerfully lived life, even in the midst of seeming loss and rejection, which these men will also suffer through persecution.

"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."  Let us note that as Jesus is talking about the power of prayer, this admonition is added in.  It goes back to relatedness, and in particular the communion we have in faith with God and through extension to others.  My study bible comments that Jesus insists on mutual forgiveness between people as a precondition of God's forgiveness.  It says that those who do not forgive are not forgiven -- period (see also Matthew 6:14-15, and also the parable of the unforgiving servant at Matthew 18:21-35).   It adds that to not forgive others is to willfully flee from the forgiveness of God for ourselves.

Since Jesus ends today's reading with a teaching on forgiveness, it is very important to understand exactly what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness is not making everything better nor necessary "fixing" broken relationships in the sense that a relationship reverts to an earlier stage.  If necessary, one must remain apart from those who will continually seek to harm us, or in cases where trust remains a difficult issue.  Forgiveness is really, like everything else, first and foremost, about our relationship with God.  It is a way in which we choose to exercise and practice fully our faith by surrendering all things -- including justice -- to the sovereignty of God.  The Lord's Prayer uses the language of debts (Matthew 6:12), and in teaching that prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus added the statement noted above using the concept of trespass (Matthew 6:14-15).  Both of these are legal concepts, and the language reflects the regulation in the Law and therefore the system of justice.  Forgiveness is the act of surrendering our debts and also the times others have trespassed (literally violated our appropriate boundaries) to God.  It puts justice in the hands of God, and takes it out of our hands.  We surrender a claim to personal vengeance in response, and instead we put it in God's hands and ask for guidance for how to handle it God's way.  Through forgiveness, we recall what we read in Scripture.  St. Paul writes (in Romans 12:19), "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord."  He is quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35.   Forgiveness, in this understanding, is a choice that is always possible.  Reconciliation -- that is, a return to full relationship with someone -- is another matter altogether.  This confusion frequently leads to a fear of forgiveness, and that is an error.  Jesus repeatedly prohibits the practice of vengeance, and this is important in the context of justice systems of the time; frequently, in the ancient world, justice was only possible for those who could rely on extended clan and kinships to help settle a matter.  Christ's teachings on justice and judgment, illustrated in the image of the withered fig tree, and linked by Christ to the power of prayer, cement this need in us to forgive.  We can always pray for others, we can always tell God that we give up a situation, a hurt, a terrible wrong, to God -- and ask God to help us with it, God's way.  We hand it over to God in prayer so that we will be shown the best way to handle a bad situation.  The world of popular psychology is filled with advice and teaching regarding the effective and necessary power of the practice of forgiveness for our psychological and spiritual health.  What remains within us colors who we are; giving all things up to God cleans our own internal slate for a better outlook and our time and energy better spent, our capacity to love the ones with whom we do have contact, communion, and relationship more full as a result.  Everything that we read in today's reading is linked, because forgiveness teaches us that we are capable of practicing compassion and not merely responding to a perceived loss.  God and our relationship with God makes us much bigger than that.  Greed and selfishness, the idea that what we are is simply the product of all that we can grab in life, or get back from what we lost as if everything is merely quantity added or subtracted, is what goes into making the temple a "den of thieves."  If we simply look at our lives as merely steps to gain or loss, then we fail to understand quality, true treasure, that which makes our lives truly good and better.  Predators think in terms of adding and subtracting, what we gain or what we lose.  But Christ calls us to compassion, to a better, sounder, deeper way of life; we are meant to be His sheep.  And He is, ultimately, the only Judge.  Let us keep in mind that these teachings come in the midst of rejection; the religious leaders will have Him going to His Crucifixion before the week is over, and let that fact sink into us to render these teachings all the more important in light of it.  If it was what was crucial to Christ, then let it be that crucial to us as well for our own lives.





Monday, February 18, 2019

Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord!


 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, "God into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat.  Loose it and bring it.  And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it.' and immediately he will send it here."  So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it.  But some of those who stood there said to them, "What are you doing, loosing the colt?"  And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded.  So they let them go.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it.  And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
"Hosanna!
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'
 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David
That comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!"
And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple.  So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

- Mark 11:1-11
On Satuday, we read that Jesus and the disciples came to Jericho, as they make their way on the road to Jerusalem.  As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging.  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called.  Then they called the blind man, saying to him, "Be of good cheer.  Rise, He is calling you."  And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.  So Jesus answered and said to him, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  The blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight."  Then Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, "God into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat.  Loose it and bring it.  And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it.' and immediately he will send it here."  So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it.  But some of those who stood there said to them, "What are you doing, loosing the colt?"  And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded.  So they let them go.   In today's reading is the story of Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  It is the event which the Church celebrates on Palm Sunday.  At Jesus' time, Jewish nationalism has looked toward a political Messiah to deliver the nation from Roman control, and to reestablish the kingdom of David.  Christ enters the city in humility; by His actions and choices He shows that He does not come to establish a worldly kingdom.  This is signaled by the choice of a donkey's colt, a humble animal, which my study bible says is a sign of humility and peace (Zechariah 9:9).  Conventional kings and conquering rulers would be riding on a horse or chariot, sign of power and might.  The entrance into the Holy City, my study bible tells us, declares the establishment of the Kingdom of God.  It is, in addition, a promise of Christ's final entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem with all believers, and of His accepting the New Jerusalem as His pure Bride (Revelation 21:2).  So in this event is contained layers of meaning and also reflection of the ultimate authority of Judgment belonging to Christ, the final cosmic victory.

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it.  And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The people spread their clothes before Jesus, as if paying reverence to a King.  My study bible says that this action is spiritually interpreted as our need to lay down our flesh, and even our very lives, for Christ.

Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:  "Hosanna!  'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'  Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!"  And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple.  So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.  The people's cry comes from Psalm 118:25-26, verses in Scripture which are associated with messianic expectation.  This was recited daily for six days during the Feast of Tabernacles (Hebrew Sukkot), and seven times on the seventh day as branches were waved.  Hosanna means, "Save, we pray!"  The first thing Jesus does after entry into Jerusalem is to go into the temple, which is the house of God, His Father's house.

Jesus enters into Jerusalem with all the popular expectations of the masses desiring Him to rule over them as king.  They have seen and heard about the miracles He's performed, and so they know that God is clearly with Him.  The things He has done are associated with messianic expectation, the time of the Messiah -- such as healing a man blind from birth, as He did with Bartimaeus outside of Jericho on the road toward Jerusalem (see Saturday's reading, above).  With Jesus, we see the overlapping of the worldly and the holy -- the events of His ministry are frequently those that have been prophesied, reflective of the Old Testament Scriptures.  Jesus enters into Jerusalem from the East, as expected of the Messiah.  The Psalm verses recited by the people are those associated with the coming of the Lord's Kingdom, as is their use at the festival of Sukkot, known as the Feast of Tabernacles or that of the Coming Kingdom, commemorating the time the people wandered in the wilderness following Moses to the Promised Land.  But this overlapping of the divine and the worldly is precisely the paradox that we find in our faith in Christ, that which leads us to deeper realities and into the mysteries of the true kingdom of God.  Christ is both divine and human; in Jewish expectation, this was not the case.  The Messiah was to be a supremely God-like man, a great king who would restore the kingdom of David.  But to know Christ requires a different set of expectations, and to come to terms with quite a different reality.  In worldly terms, a human being who is also divine might be expected to be so supremely powerful that no worldly or human army or military might could stand against Him.  But our King comes in a humble human package, and so does His ministry, as do His teachings.  Nothing in Scripture is an accident, and it's not merely a coincidence that our readings over the past week, as we have read of the preparation for this moment of entry into Jerusalem, have included numerous teachings about the importance of humility and sacrifice, the use of power and authority with the greatest love and grace.  The disciples have repeatedly been told that he who would be first shall be last, and that those among them who desire to be the greatest shall be last and servant of all.  They have been told that to receive even a little child in the name of Christ is to receive Christ Himself, and even the Father who sent Him.  Jesus chooses for His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem the colt of a donkey.  He rides not in a chariot or on a horse like a conquering king, and He has no army with Him, no display of worldly power and might.  No, this is not a Messiah who will meet the worldly expectations of nationalism and power, and lord it over the rest of the world.  He does not use manipulation and coercive force.  His is a kingdom of hearts and minds which are won over only through a free will choice, because it is a kingdom of reciprocal love.  You can't really fake faith.  You can't really feign loyalty, because Christ is the "heart-knower."  What He is after is something that is deep inside of us, that perhaps He sees that we don't even understand.  Somewhere within ourselves we have the capacity to cooperate with grace, to say "yes" to spiritual calls and prompting.  Christ shows us the way, with His identity and ministry of divine/human synergy.  He teaches us that there are hidden things within us which are found in the identity that He has for us in His Kingdom, if we but choose to follow in faith, and if we are prepared to do so His way.   He defies all expectations, to the contempt and consternation of some -- and to the heights of beauty, truth, and goodness the world can grasp, if we but know how to see and to receive as a little child.






Saturday, February 16, 2019

What do you want Me to do for you?


 Now they came to Jericho.  As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging.  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called.  Then they called the blind man, saying to him, "Be of good cheer.  Rise, He is calling you."  And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.  So Jesus answered and said to him, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  The blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight."  Then Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.

- Mark 10:46-52

Yesterday we read that Jesus and the disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed.  And as they followed they were afraid.  Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:  "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again."  Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask."  And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory."  But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  They said to Him, "We are able."  So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."  And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.  But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." 

 Now they came to Jericho.  As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging.  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"  So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called.  Then they called the blind man, saying to him, "Be of good cheer.  Rise, He is calling you."  And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus.  So Jesus answered and said to him, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  The blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight."  Then Jesus said to him, "Go your way; your faith has made you well."  And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.  My study bible comments that the restoration of sight to the blind was a sign which was expected to be performed by the Messiah, and a power that God had reserved for only God's use alone (compare John 9:32).  That Bartimaeus calls Jesus Son of David shows his faith that Jesus is the Messiah, for was a messianic title.  There is in tradition also a spiritual interpretation of this miracle.  Jericho was a low-lying city associated with sin, and notorious for crime (see the parable of the Good Samaritan, which takes place on this dangerous road to Jericho).   Here, the city symbolizes fallen humanity with all of its imperfections, limitations, problems.  Bartimaeus' blindness becomes an image of our struggles in this darkness.  In this perspective, Christ passing through Jericho is an image of the Incarnation.  Jesus' restoration of sight to Bartimaeus, my study bible says, parallels His restoring humanity to glory.  It is a picture of "enlightenment."  Bartimaeus is made whole by Christ, and thus human nature, transfigured by the light of grace, is capable of following Christ on the road to the Kingdom -- symbolized in Christ's later entrance into Jerusalem.  

In all of this week's readings, Jesus emphasizes to the disciples the importance of humility in their understanding of power and its use in His kingdom, His way.  He repeatedly has told them that He will suffer and die in Jerusalem, and rise on the third day.  He has emphasized to these men who will become the first bishops of His church, how power and authority must be wielded in His name, that in even the littlest ones whom they receive in His name they must see Him, Christ -- and also the Father who sent Him.   This is the way He defines the order of true greatness, through service and humility, expressions of active love in the way of the Cross.  In a particular sense, the healing of Bartimaeus is an image of this teaching.  If we consider the place of Bartimaeus, it is as one of the "littlest ones" in the sense of power or authority.  He can do nothing but sit by this dangerous road, in a place notorious for sin, begging.  He is an image of helplessness, powerlessness, and infirmity.  But he has one thing at hand, he has faith that Jesus is the Christ.  He is such a lowly person that when he shouts out to Jesus in this no doubt tumultuous and noisy crowd, he is told by many to be quiet.  But Jesus hears him, and stands still in order to call out to him.  To be called by Christ speaks clearly to vocation, to spiritual hearing.  Bartimaeus may not be able to see, but he can hear, and with the important spiritual sense of hearing, which Bartimaeus uses to the fullest of his capacity, he may respond to Jesus' call answering his own pleas.  There is a message there that even in our weakness and imperfection, even with wounds and with severe loss, handicap, or lack, what we have -- with faith -- is enough.  In Thursday's reading, Jesus taught, "With God all things are possible."  Our limitations and imperfections do not really limit us, for we as human beings possess a nature capable of development and compensation for the things we lack, for what is missing from our lives, what we wish we had and think we need.  We are capable of developing whatever it is we do have, even with faith as tiny as a mustard seed.  This is  the true image of human nature which Christ teaches us, our capacity as spiritual creatures made in the image and likeness of God.  Throughout the Gospels, the stories teach us about persistence, awareness, and resourcefulness, making the best of what we have with our intelligence and capacity for the love of Christ and responding to the good He offers.   The people who approach Christ all lack something; the ones who find redemption are those who, despite circumstances, find a way to Christ:  whether we are speaking of a Gentile woman outside of Israel, a paralyzed man taken to Christ by his friends by lowering him through a roof, a woman who had bankrupted herself on failed medical treatments, or a forsaken demoniac living among the tombs.  The one man, whom Christ loves, who fails to find that extra effort to follow Christ is the rich young man who has so much, and who cannot see a way to part with his possessions.  Bartimaeus means "son of Timaeus", and Timaeus comes from a Greek word meaning "to honor" or "esteem."  He may be the lowliest person on that road through Jericho, but he gives us the truth of our nature -- though disfigured, capable of the greatest virtue through the faith that recognizes and fervently desires what is truly good.  He follows Christ on the road to Jerusalem, becoming one of those who travel with the disciples to Jerusalem.  He will see the Triumphal Entry, symbolizing Christ's entrance into His kingdom.  It is he who will live the words of Simeon's song.  We recall Jesus' teaching regarding John the Baptist:  "For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke 7:28).  Where will grace take you with whatever it is you have, in the ways you might not yet know you are capable of following Him?  This is the real story of who we are in the light of Christ, and it is the meaning of salvation and redemption.  He doesn't call us in our perfection; He calls us as we are right now.  Christ's strength is made perfect in our weakness and infirmities  (2 Corinthians 12:9).  This is the great beauty revealed in His ministry and mission.  All we need is our own love and trust in Him, and a deep desire for what He offers.




Friday, February 15, 2019

Whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many


 Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed.  And as they followed they were afraid.  Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:  "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again."

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask."  And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory."  But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  They said to Him, "We are able."  So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."  And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.  But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." 

- Mark 10:32-45

Yesterday we read that as Jesus was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"  So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments:  'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'"  And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth."   Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack:  Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me."  But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"  And the disciples were astonished at His words.  But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible."  Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You."  So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

 Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed.  And as they followed they were afraid.  Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:  "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him.  And the third day He will rise again."  This is the third time Jesus has warned the disciples about what will happen in Jerusalem.  What is new here is the greater detail, and the fact that He is openly headed to Jerusalem -- which has the disciples both amazed and afraid.   My study bible says that Christ's repeated predictions of His Passion were intended to encourage and strengthen the disciples for the terrifying events they will face; it also confirms that Christ goes to those events by His own will and choosing, in full awareness of what is to come.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask."  And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?"  They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory."  But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  They said to Him, "We are able."  So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; . . .."    Yet again the question comes up about occupying the positions of greatness in the kingdom that the disciples expect will happen (see Monday's reading), as Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem.  We can see a reflection of James and John's personae in the fact that it is John who previously asked Jesus about one "who does not follow us" who was casting out demons in Christ's name (also in Monday's reading).  We know also of the closeness of John to Christ, the disciple to whom Jesus will later entrust His mother's care (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2).   In a kind of parallel to the warnings about what will happen to Jesus in Jerusalem, Jesus is again taking painstaking care to teach the disciples about power and humility, and wielding the authority which He confers.  His questions also pointedly parallel His newer and more explicit previews of what they will witness happening to Him.  He questions if they are able to drink His cup of the Crucifixion and endure His same baptism of death.  My study bible explains that the Cross is a cup because Christ drank it willingly (Hebrews 12:2), and His death is baptism, because He was completely immersed in it, and yet it cleansed the world (Romans 6:3-6).  This prophecy regarding John and James shows their lives of persecution and martyrdom which will come after Pentecost.  John will live a long life enduring exile and fierce persecution of the Church; James will be the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:1-2).

". . . but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared."  And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John.   My study bible explains that Jesus is not saying He lacks authority.   He's indicating that these places are not His to give arbitrarily; they will go to those for whom God has prepared them.  Moreover, St. Chrysostom explains that to sit as equals on Christ's right hand and left would not be possible for anyone.  Regarding the highest positions of honor that can be given to human beings, the icons of the Orthodox Church universally depict the Virgin Mary (most blessed among women -- Luke 1:28) and John the Baptist (greatest born of women -- Matthew 11:11) holding these places.

 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."   Finally, regarding notions of power, Jesus gives yet another -- and more explicit -- exposition on power and authority, and their use among His disciples and in His Church.   This is yet another instance of Jesus' giving an explicit reference for the third time, when He uses language emphasizing that those who wish to be "first" must be "last" (Mark 9:35, 10:31, 10:44).  My study bible adds that for many is an Aramaic expression that means "for all."

How do we use power?  How do we use authority?  Jesus goes to the heart of what we consider true authority and power.  He cuts to the depth of what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus' ideas about gracious behavior in positions of authority would be extended to the societies in which Christianity took root.  It is the underpinning, to my thinking, of development of systems of justice that attempt to protect the innocent who are unjustly accused.   The Book of Pastoral Rule, written by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, would be adopted not only by those in monastic and ecclesial orders, but would be introduced as part of early formal education for the aristocratic classes.  The concept of noblesse oblige, and what it means to be a gentle-person, in my opinion, comes directly from this influence.   Our very concepts about what it means to have polite manners, common courtesy, can be traced to Jesus' teachings.  Even notions of courtly love, making their appearance in twelfth century literature, come from a Christian understanding of women and the influence of the image of Mary the Mother of Christ.   Each of these concepts can be tied to Christ's notion of true power and authority, particularly in the way in which He contrasts contemporary Gentile use and understanding of power with the ways in which the apostles must come to understand their places of authority and power.  Where we fail in our societies and institutions today, we fail to take Jesus' words seriously.  This extends both from nominal positions of authority and power at all levels of our society all the way down to our most intimate relations with one another and within families.  What is it to be gracious?   What does it mean to be humble, even when wielding great authority and power?  These are questions we need to ask ourselves every day regarding the most appropriate way to live our lives, and conduct not only most becoming but also most effective on any level.  Jesus sets the tone for leadership:  He is loyal to His followers.  He corrects in private.  He exercises love in all of His actions.  Let us note that none of these things, as expressed in Jesus' character, means that we refrain from expressing the truth at particular times and where it will be effective; nor does it mean there are no rebukes or corrections.  This is a rigorous undertaking for each of us, and if we take personal responsibility seriously, then we take Christ's teachings here seriously.  It makes the epitome of good leadership, but is the distinguishing character of those who wish to bear Christ into the world.  Let us consider the ways in which we fall short, and ways in which we change and adapt to that which He teaches -- even when others don't.




Thursday, February 14, 2019

With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible


 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"  So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments:  'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'"  And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth."   Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack:  Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me."  But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"  And the disciples were astonished at His words.  But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?"  But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible."  Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You."  So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

 - Mark 10:17-31

Yesterday we read that Jesus left Capernaum and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan.  And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again.  The Pharisees came and asked Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" testing Him.  And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her."  And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her."  And Jesus answered and said to them, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.  But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'  'For this reason  man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."  In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.  So he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."  Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."  And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"  So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments:  'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'"  And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth."  This rich young man comes to Christ to seek advice, as if from a good Teacher.  He comes running to Christ, suggesting how deeply he wants this advice.  He kneels before Jesus in respect, but understands Him only as a teacher, not as the Christ.  However, he is sincere, unlike the Pharisees in yesterday's reading (above) who come simply to test Jesus.  We can assume that he comes from a landowning family, perhaps one of the aristocratic class of Jerusalem who formed part of the Council.  My study bible says here that Christ's response to him does not deny that He is God, but is designed to lead the rich man to this knowledge.  The commandments given to Moses he has kept all of his life -- but what is made clear by this passage is that formal observance does not make one righteous before God.  My study bible comments that this man had an earnest desire for eternal life, and sensed that he still lacked something.  Therefore he continues to press Jesus for the answer.

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack:  Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me."  But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  Let us note that Mark tells us Jesus loved him.  It gives us a clue as to the man's sincerity in seeking out Christ.  My study bible comments that to be perfect, one must willingly sacrifice all and follow Christ, and that this sacrifice must be made freely.  It's important also that it notes that whatever is specifically asked of each one will be different for each.   Wealth had a great grip on this rich man; my study bible suggests that his only hope was to sell and give away all his possessions.  St. Chrysostom writes that giving away possessions is the least of Christ's instructions here.  To follow Him in all things is a far greater and more difficult calling.

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!"  And the disciples were astonished at His words.  But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?"   Note that the disciples are astonished at Jesus' words.  But Jesus emphasizes the point with a vivid metaphor.  My study bible notes the varied interpretations suggested regarding this image of a camel going through the eye of a needle.  Some have stated that the word for camel in Aramaic resembles one meaning "rope" -- and so the analogy with the eye of a needle is closer if one thinks of unraveling the threads that comprise the rope.  Others have stated that the eye of a needle was a city gate, which a camel could barely squeeze through if it were unloaded of all of its baggage.  In the Talmud, my study bible notes, there is a similar expression, "for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle."  But however we read this passage, Jesus is clearly conveying the difficulties, even impossibility, for any of us attached to riches.  Considering the wealth and availability of goods pursued in many of our societies today, this remains a strong teaching for all of us.  Again, we note the repeated astonishment of the disciples, asking, Who then can be saved?  The difficulty has always been with us, and emphatically remains so.

But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible."  Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You."  So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first."   Here is another emphatic promise from Christ:  with God all things are possible.  Through God's grace, what is impossible to human beings can come to pass.   The apostles "come to themselves" with Peter speaking for them:   See, we have left all and followed You.  Jesus gives another promise, one of an exchange, receiving a hundredfold in exchange, plus persecutions, and eternal life.  But yet again, He emphasizes the central importance of humility, repeating a teaching from Monday's reading, in which Jesus said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35).

What is interesting about today's passage is that we tend to view it as a scathing indictment about possessions and the wealthy, but in effect, this is not quite what is presented to us.  The text tells us that Jesus loved this rich young man, and the advice to give away what he owned was loving advice -- it was the one thing he lacked.  The emphasis here is on detachment from anything that gets in the way of faith.  That is, there is one thing necessary (Luke 10:42), that comes first (Matthew 22:37).  Today's teaching is quite similar to the earlier ones from the week, in which Jesus gave the apostles images of self-mutilation, suggesting that it is better to enter life maimed and without a hand or foot or eye, rather than harming one of the littlest ones who will be in their charge.  That also was an admonition to detachment, of the strongest kind, using the images of body parts to convey an impression of personal habits or desires that we need to cast off in order to truly follow Him (see Tuesday's reading).  In each of our readings for the week, Jesus has spoken to us about attachments, and the need to allow God in first before everything else.  St. Paul writes that "the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12)  That is, our spiritual need goes deeper than anything else, and that which would separate us from salvation will be rooted out even to the greatest depth within us.  What we remember, however, is Jesus' promise of exchange.  We exchange one way of life for another, one way of looking at life for another, one set of attachments for a deeper reality grounded in the energies of God, to which all else will be added.  But we will be changed, our dependency will be upon something other than that which we think we possess.  This is the exchange of life He promises, and it is a change of life indeed.  Let us pray for our own detachment, which can be painful and difficult, even a frightening process.  Jesus repeatedly says to the disciples, "Do not be afraid."   But joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).  We don't know what life this rich man, beloved of Christ, could have had as one of Jesus' followers. We do know that he went away sad.  As St. Chrysostom writes, it is by no means an easy thing to give up the things we're asked, internal and external.  Let us pray for the courage to follow, for ourselves and others, for with God all things are possible.







Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God


 Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan.  And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again.  The Pharisees came and asked Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" testing Him.  And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her."  And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her."  And Jesus answered and said to them, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.  But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'  'For this reason  man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."

In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.  So he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."  And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

- Mark 10:1-16

In yesterday's reading, Jesus continued His response to the disciples' dispute about who would be greatest. We recall that He uses the example of a little child, and addresses the use of power on His terms:  "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.   It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire -- where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'  For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.  Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another."

 Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan.  And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again.  The Pharisees came and asked Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" testing Him.  And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her."  And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?"  They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her."  And Jesus answered and said to them, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.  But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'  'For this reason  man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."   Once again, we note that the real emphasis here in Christ's ministry is teaching.  The Pharisees come from Jerusalem, across the Jordan, and they ask Him a question regarding divorce, seeking to test Jesus.  At this time, divorce was debated topic.  The Pharisees tended to come down on a more strict side, further in alignment with Jesus' position on the matter than other groups among the religious leadership.  There were also rules prohibiting divorce and remarriage to the same person, as dowries were an issue that could be subject to abuse.  Under the Mosaic Law, generally speaking, easy access to divorce had become the norm, and so abuse was an issue.  In this context, Jesus repeatedly condemns divorce and instead emphasizes the spiritual and eternal nature of marriage, that it comes from God.   We should note also that divorce was not possible for a Jewish woman, only a man.   As with His overall approach to the religious practices of the day, Jesus returns to the intent of the Law, the perspective of God, in quoting from Scripture (Genesis 1:27, 5:2, 2:24).

 In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter.  So he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."   Here in Mark's Gospel, the emphasis on fidelity in marriage is very strong.  Alone with the disciples, this strict interpretation is given.  But in this context of marriage as a divine and blessed institution, we should also understand that, just like our communion with God, marriage can be abused by sin.  In the early Church, divorce was allowed for particular cases of abuse and desertion and for sexual immorality, but in all cases recognizing the spiritual tragedy of the circumstance.

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."  And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.  Once again, little children become the focus, as in Jesus' teaching in the readings from Monday and Tuesday.  This time, Jesus expands on the example of how the "littlest ones" are to be treated.  He holds the little children as examples of spiritual attitude, so to speak, our approach to the kingdom of God.   Theophylact comments, on a similar passage in Luke, "A little child is not arrogant, he does not despise anyone, he is innocent and guileless.  He does not inflate himself in the presence of important people, nor withdraw from those in sorrows.  Instead, he lives in complete simplicity."

It seems to me connected that just before Jesus speaks about marriage, He expounds upon the use of power to His disciples, using the image of a little child as one whom they must receive as if they receive Christ, and if Christ, then also they receive the Father.  (See the readings from Monday and Tuesday.) There is just a depth of connection in the image of the little child and in the divine aspects of marriage.  First of all, in the earlier readings, Jesus is speaking of the bedrock of right-relatedness.  He teaches us about the use of power in His Kingdom, and in particular, specifically to these disciples who will be the bishops of His Church.  If, in His name, we are to receive even a little child as if we receive Him, and hence the Father, and if so doing confers true greatness, then what of our conduct within marriage, given by God and sanctified in the Church?  The eternal quality of this relationship is stressed by Jesus, but there is also the depth of relatedness He stresses.  If they are to receive a little child who comes to them in His name as if they receive both Christ and the Father, then consider this depth of relationship that Jesus expresses, repeating Scripture:  "the two shall become one flesh."  In the face of child we are to see Christ, but between spouses there is no barrier at all, and one must see one's own face in the other.  This speaks of marriage as a single unit, a place of completeness and complementarity within union.  This is the also the ground for children, but in itself is a holy union.  Note that procreation is not the purpose of marriage as expressed here by Christ; rather, it is this depth of union that is its holy purpose; and in this understanding, children are a blessing.  Jesus' words are not meant to be harsh; rather they are words that teach us about love, and the wonder that is possible for us with God's grace.  As we are transformed through grace and faith, each made in the image and likeness of God, so Jesus frames marriage.  As human beings meant for this likeness and image, so we also enter into marriage as a sacred institution, a place for holiness to dwell.  It is within this depth of communion that Jesus speaks of breaking the bonds of marriage with abuse, and this is how we should consider His teaching.  It is love that is of the essence here, a love sanctified by holiness and beginning and ending with our Creator.  Yes, it is an ideal, and we have all of our humanity that is uncovered and exposed through our relationships -- but this is in order to heal and to learn love and compassion.  Finally, we go to the icon of the child, held up as an image of the faithful who would enter the kingdom of God.  In a child's face is approachability and directness, a simplicity that really has to do with an openness to the things of love that come from holiness, true ἀγάπη/agapē -- and this is the way that Christ wishes for all of us to be in approaching the things of God.  It is what the disciples, and we, are to see in the heart of the child.  Let it be so for each one, an image toward which we travel on the road of our faith.



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea


 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where
'Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.'
"And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.   It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where
'Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.'
"And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire -- where
'Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.'
"For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.  Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another."

- Mark 9:42-50

Yesterday we read that Jesus and the disciples departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it.  For He taught His disciples and said to them, "The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And right after He is killed, He will rise the third day."  But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.  Then He came to Capernaum.  And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?"  But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.  And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."  Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them.  And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me."  Now John answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us."  But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.  For he who is not against us is on our side.  For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"  Let us recall that we are in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and the disciples.  They have arrived in Capernaum and are inside the house of Peter, and Jesus has asked them what they were disputing while they were on the road, on the way here.  They had been disputing between themselves who would be greatest in what we presume is the worldly kingdom they expect.  They have failed to understand what it means that Jesus has told them He will "rise on the third day," and are likely thinking of the worldly kingdom expected among the population when the Christ comes.  In yesterday's reading, above, Jesus began by telling about how power should be exercised in His kingdom, in the Church which will be established in His name.  Here, He continues this discussion, once again referring to the "little ones," symbolized by the little child He uses as an example.  My study bible says that little ones include all who have childlike humility and simplicity, all who are poor in spirit.  Little ones are also the humbler and less powerful, and clearly Jesus is referring to the time when they will be the bishops of His Church, and consequently He is teaching our bishops of today, and all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ.  Jesus quotes from Isaiah 66:24, regarding the fate of those who transgress against God, making this the sternest warning to the disciples that He can make.  If we think about a hand, we understand He is speaking about where a hand might go that violates the appropriate boundaries of God.  Jesus has already stressed that when they receive even a little child, it is as if they receive Him, and if Him, then the Father who sent Him.  A hand may seek to grasp and take hold of that which does not belong to it, to commit theft; it may also strike a person.  Jesus is referring to personal habits that seem a part of ourselves, saying that we must cut them off even if we are "maimed" as a result.  This is preferable to harming one of the little ones.

"And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.   It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched -- where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"   Jesus re-emphasizes the point by using the example of a foot.  A foot may trample or trespass where it is not wanted nor welcome.  Mark's Gospel repeats the warning from Isaiah about those who transgress the word of God.

"And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire -- where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"  And again, Jesus uses the image of a body part to emphasize violations of power and abuse.  An eye may gaze upon that which it covets; this kind of lust can apply both to property and to people.

"For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.  Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another."   My study bible comments that to be seasoned with fire means being tested to see if one's faith and works are genuine (see 1 Corinthians 3:11-15).  Christ is quoting Leviticus 2:13 when He says that every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.  Here, salt stands for the remembrance of God's covenant with God's people.  

Jesus uses the quite vivid imagery of body parts and mutilation to teach us about the importance of casting off habits or tendencies which can seem like a vital part of ourselves, should they predispose us to any sort of violation against one of the "little ones."  Clearly these warnings are about the use of power in His Church, and they are given to the disciples who will be the very pillars of that Church, its first bishops.  But each of us has to take these warnings seriously for ourselves.  We read about scandals in the Church; these may be scandals about money, or scandals about abuse of other kinds, including of the literal "little ones."  But in every case, we must go back to the words of Christ here, who took such pains to emphasize how those in His Church should use power.   This passage in Mark's Gospel simply could not be more emphatic as a warning against abuses of power in the Church.  But for each of us, who seek to bear Christ's image within ourselves as well as we can, these words should be especially stinging and poignant.  Imagine the disciples hearing the words from Isaiah, and repeated three times, as a warning against behaviors that abuse the powerless.  Jesus does not advocate violence or self-mutiliation here, but He is giving us the one and only choice we have, and that is a kind of radical personal repentance that may feel like we are casting off a part of ourselves.  Christ also calls into question here notions of personal power, and those who may interest themselves in places in the Church simply for the sake of wielding a kind of power, having a position of greatness.  Looking back upon Church history, so often the most remembered bishops and leaders have been those reluctant to serve in high position, with a preference for the obscurity of monastic life.  It tells us something important about humility that even stories from secular life reflect the importance of humility for some of our greatest generals and political leaders.  In the context of today's headlines and scandals, Christ's words remain ever so important for all of us.  Humility is the antidote for what ails us -- and the willingness to look critically at ourselves and our flaws and weaknesses, and cast off that which may cause offense through trespass.  Christ offers us a way, and it is a way that is meant not only for these future leaders of His Church, but for all of us.  In the midst of the scandalous -- whatever that may be -- let us consider His teachings and His wisdom.  He gives us His way, and it is a way of humility and repentance for those who would be greatest among us.  We represent Him and His kingdom in this world; let us be in compliance with what He teaches.  We can look all around ourselves and see violations of power on every scale and in all kinds of dimensions of the society.  In today's reading,  Jesus promises that we all will be tested.  But He offers us His way; let us practice what He so strongly advocates and teaches.  Let us be those who remember Him, and have salt in ourselves and peace with one another.




Monday, February 11, 2019

Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me


 Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it.  For He taught His disciples and said to them, "The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And right after He is killed, He will rise the third day."  But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.

Then He came to Capernaum.  And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?"  But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.  And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."  Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them.  And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me."

Now John answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us."  But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.  For he who is not against us is on our side.  For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."

- Mark 9:30-41

On Saturday we read that when Jesus came to the disciples (from the Mount of the Transfiguration, together with Peter, James, and John), He saw a great multitude around the other nine disciples, and scribes disputing with them.  Immediately, when they saw Him, all the people were greatly amazed, and running to Him, greeted Him.  And He asked the scribes, "What are you discussing with them?"  Then one of the crowd answered and said, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who has a mute spirit.  And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid.  So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not."  He answered him and said, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you?  How long shall I bear with you?  Bring him to Me."  Then they brought him to Him.  And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.  So He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?"  And he said, "From childhood.  And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.  But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."  Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"  When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it:  "Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!"  Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him.  And he became as one dead, so that many said, "He is dead."  But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.  And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?"  So he said to them, "This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting."

Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it.  For He taught His disciples and said to them, "The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him.  And right after He is killed, He will rise the third day."  But they did not understand this saying, and were afraid to ask Him.  Jesus has only recently been revealed to the disciples as the Christ (see Thursday's reading from last week).  But this is a repeated, second warning to the disciples about the suffering that Jesus will go through, and that they must be prepared for.  Jesus is being explicit:  He will be killed, and rise the third day.  We note again, they still do not understand this saying, and they are afraid to ask Him.  Moreover, there is a repeated note in the fact that Jesus did not want anyone to know that He was passing through Galilee.  In our recent readings, He has tried to avoid public notice by going to Tyre and Sidon (the Gentile region to the north of Galilee) and returning south in a roundabout way, through the Decapolis.  Now He goes again into Galilee, but wants to remain hidden.

Then He came to Capernaum.  And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?"  But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.  And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."  Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them.  And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me."  Jesus returns to His ministry "headquarters" in Capernaum.  But we note He speaks to the disciples in the house and not openly in public.  This is Peter's family home, the "residence" for Christ's ministry.  Apparently, when the disciples understood that He was to die and "rise the third day," they assume this means into the kingdom of Israel, with Christ as eternal ruler, as understood in popular expectation of the time.  With such an understanding, they had disputed among themselves, while on the road, who would be greatest in that worldly kingdom they expect to manifest.  My study bible says that this indicates a selfish interest in worldly power.  Jesus then begins to teach them about true leadership, what it is to be great in His kingdom and among them all.  They must not think of greatness in  conventional sense, but in a compassionate sense.  To receive a little child in His name is to receive Him -- and to receive Christ is to receive the Father who sent Him.   To care, in whatever capacity we have, for the littlest or least powerful among us, as if we receive Christ, and therefore the Father, is to use the power we have His way.

Now John answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us."  But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.  For he who is not against us is on our side.  For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."  My study bible cites two commentaries on John's remark about others who cast out demons in the name of Christ.  Theophylact sees this comment as a kind of regret, that they "forbade him because he does not follow us," after Christ's teaching above about the "first" and the "last."  But St. Ambrose, on the other hand, sees John as expecting full obedience to accompany the blessings of discipleship.  But in either interpretation, my study bible concludes, Christ's response shows that all those who act in good faith are not excluded -- even if not currently numbered among the disciples.  Theophylact writes, in commenting on this episode as reported by Luke (Luke 9:46-50), "See how divine grace is at work even in those who are not His disciples.  Regarding those who use Christ's name without good faith, see Luke 11:23, Acts 19:13-16.  Let us note also how grace works:  even the gift of a cup of water, extended to one of Christ's in the name of Christ, brings a blessing.

Christ uses a little child to teach the disciples about power and its use.  They must not think like the worldly think about power.  Even a little child is one they must receive as if they are receiving Him, and if receiving Him, therefore the Father in heaven who sent Him.  This is how we are told by Christ that we are to receive those who come into our lives, as His disciples.  What a hard and vivid teaching this is, indeed.  I find that this teaching is a great antidote to modern ills that in psychological parlance would be called "violation of boundaries."  Can one imagine the incidents of child abuse -- of any type -- that one may consider if Christ's rules about how we receive even the most powerless in our lives were followed?  It is truly the great teaching about power that we need as antidote to the things that ail us in our world, and which are all around us.  Correction can come with love, discipline, through Christ, comes with love.  Rebukes come with love.  The key to love is truly wanting what is best for the other person.  In the example of the little child, we are often tempted to merely think that this is a description of little children and their virtues as emblems of faithful.  Indeed, this may indeed be the case when Christ speaks of little children this way, as in Matthew 19:14.  But here, Jesus is giving us a different message.  This is not only about little children, but the little children are an example of all the humble, those least powerful among us, whether they be our fellow parishioners or others we meet with in the course of our lives.  Let us consider that Jesus addresses those who will be the pillars of His Church, our first bishops, and He addresses them as those who will lead when He is gone.  He gives us the example of leadership in this reading about little children.  He also teaches us about the communion that is present in His name:  all are linked, from the least to the greatest, to both Christ and to the Father.  God's presence, thereby, is always with us!  Let us remember, also, that today's reading contains the teaching that even a cup of water extended in faith to another one who also belongs to Christ, is noted and known by God, and will bring with it a reward, a blessing.  (To balance, we also recall His warning about giving away what is holy, or  pearls of spiritual beauty to those who will respond with contempt in Matthew 7:6; we are called to discernment, not careless blindness or waste.)  There is no gesture that goes unnoticed, no time when God is not present with us, even God the Father who sends the Son into the world.  It is a teaching for us and for the importance of our lives and what we do -- and moreover a clear teaching about our faith and how powerful a connection it is even when others cannot perceive this.  So how do we use power?  In whose name and for what purpose?  Let us remember God watches and knows, and that we always rely on this presence -- always with us in the Spirit and in the angels with us "who always behold the face of God" (Matthew 18:10) -- to guide us and help us use our own capacity and strengths in the ways He would have us do so.