Be an Example to Believers

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.   (1 Timothy 4:12)

St. Alexander Schmorell (d. 1943AD)

Abba Isaac said: “As a young man I was staying with Abba Cronios and he never told me to do a task even though he was aged and tremulous. Of his own accord he would get up and offer the water bottle to me and likewise to all. After that I stayed with Abba Theodore of Pherme and neither did he ever tell me to do anything. He would lay the table himself and then say: ‘Brother, come and eat if you like.’ I would say to him: ‘Abba, I came to you to reap some benefit; why do you never tell me to do anything?’ The elder said to them: ‘Am I the superior of a coenobium to order him around?’ For the time being I didn’t tell him [to do] anything. He will do what he sees me doing if he wants to.’

So from then on I began anticipating, doing whatever the elder was about to do. For his part, if he was doing anything, he used to do it in silence This taught me to act in silence.” (Give Me a Word: The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 147)

So the Evangelist Luke writes:

A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.   (Luke 22:24-27)

When Jesus had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.  (John 13:12-17)

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Jesus as Temple

The Feast of the  Meeting of the Lord Jesus in the Temple is based upon the events recorded in  Luke 2:22-40 when Mary and Joseph, fulfilling the Torah command and thus righteousness, bring the 40 day old infant Jesus to the Jerusalem temple.  Biblical scholar Richard Hays says both ancient Jewish and Christian sources saw the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70AD as being theologically significant.

“Once the Temple has been destroyed and the holy of holies no longer stands in a building made with hands, the community must seek to discern how the God of all the earth will be made known in the world. In this situation, Matthew emphatically locates the divine presence in the figure of Jesus himself, who promises (in a saying that anticipates the resurrection and the ending of the Gospel) to be forever present wherever his followers gather and invoke his name.

In short, in Matthew 18:20 Jesus now declares himself, for the first time, to be the Emmanuel promised in the narrator’s opening fulfillment citation in 1:23. ‘My words will not pass away.’ Precisely because Jesus is Emmanuel, in his subsequent discourse on the end of the age (Matthew 24) he can offer the further remarkable assurance that his words will outlast all creation: ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away‘ (24:35). If we ask ourselves who might legitimately say such a thing, once again there can be only one answer: we find ourselves face-to-face with the God of the Old Testament. Isaiah gives definitive expression to this theological truth: The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa 40:7-8)     (Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness, Kindle Loc 1197-1209)

Christ in the temple is God in the temple.  The temple was a sign of God’s incarnation and Christ is that incarnation in the temple.  The Christian understanding of Jesus as the incarnate God is the Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel.  It is not the Christians reading “into” the text but recognizing the claims of the text in Jesus Christ.

What the Blind Man Could See Even Without His Eyes

“And he who sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)

This past Sunday’s Gospel lesson was John 9:1-38  – Christ healing a man who had been born blind.   Several of the hymns from Matins today reviewed the events and point out that what was clear to the blind man was that the enemies of Christ were indeed “darkened in heart, mind and soul” and were willfully blind to the facts.  Christ’s opponents found the truth to be inconvenient for them and so they tried to change, distort or destroy the facts so they could hold to their own interpretation of events.

THE MAN ONCE BLIND SAW THAT THOSE WITH SIGHT WERE TRULY BLIND, DARKENED IN HEART, MIND AND SOUL, FOR WHEN THEY SAW THAT HE SUDDENLY WAS ABLE TO SEE, THEY QUESTIONED HIM WITH PERSISTENCE: HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU NOW TO SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY?  YOU WERE BLIND FROM BIRTH.  YOU SAT ON THE ROADSIDES AND BEGGED!  HE TOLD THEM WHO HAD GIVEN HIM SIGHT, AND IN THE MIDST OF THEIR DARKENED ASSEMBLY HE CONFESSED YOU: THE SON, BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER BEFORE THE AGES, WHO FASHIONED THE LIGHTS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND IN THESE LAST DAYS, IN YOUR COMPASSION, BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, FROM THE VIRGIN MARY, DAWNED UPON THE WORLD AS A MORTAL MAN!

Light was shining in the darkness but those opposed to Christ preferred the darkness so that they wouldn’t have to change their own beliefs or practices.

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  (John 3:19-20)

 

The man born blind is given not only his physical sight, but true spiritual insight.  He sees for the first time, but what he sees came not from his physical eyes but from the eyes of his heart and soul.  For he sees light for the first time and immediately recognizes Christ, the light of the world.  He was blind from birth but he was not willfully blind – given the opportunity, he could immediately see what those who had never been physically blind could not.

THE BLIND MAN WALKED THE STREETS OF LIFE LIKE ONE CONDEMNED TO ENDLESS LABOR IN THE PITS OF THE EARTH.  HIS FEET WERE BRUISED; HE HAD A STAFF INSTEAD OF EYES, AND THUS HE FLED FOR REFUGE TO THE GIVER OF LIGHT.  HE RECEIVED HIS SIGHT, AND THE FIRST THING HE SAW WAS HIS CREATOR WHO FASHIONED THE HUMAN RACE ACCORDING TO HIS OWN IMAGE AND LIKENESS.  HE CREATED ALL THINGS FIRST FROM THE DUST OF THE EARTH, AND NOW HE GIVES LIGHT THROUGH DUST AND SPITTLE, OPENING BLIND EYES TO THE SUN, IN HIS LOVE FOR MANKIND.

Usually, if we get dust or dirt in  our eyes, we cannot see and our eyelids want to close.  But when Christ puts the clay made from dust and spittle on the man’s eyes, the blind suddenly can see for his eyes were opened.  Dirt and dust did not block his view but opened his eyes to the spiritual reality that Christ is Lord, God and Savior.

St. Thomas: A Jewish Confession of Christ’s Divinity

St. Thomas Sunday:  John 20:19-31

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

One modern church historian comments on the confession which the Apostle Thomas utters upon seeing the Risen Jesus:  My Lord and my God!”

“How could a faithful Jew who had recited the Sh’ma since childhood, whose prayers were addressed to God the king of the universe, address Christ as God or Son of God, as the earliest Christians did? Hilary’s answer is that the Resurrection of Christ transfigured everything. When Jesus came and stood among the disciples and put his finger in his side, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” When confronted by the risen Christ one does not say, “How interesting,” but “My Lord and my God!”

The terms used by Thomas, Lord and God, are significant, and they allow Hilary [d. 367AD] to Drive home his point. “Lord” and “God” are the terms that occur in the Sh’ma, yet here they are used not of God the creator of the world and the king of the universe, but of Christ. Because of the Resurrection Thomas recognized that the one he knew, who had lived among them, was not just an extraordinary human being but the living God. “No one except God is able to rise from death to life by its own power,” writes Hilary. But his argument runs deeper. He wishes to say not only that the Resurrection revealed something about Christ to His disciples, namely, that he is God; his more penetrating observation is that Resurrection caused them to think about God differently. Once Jesus was raised, writes Hilary, Thomas “understood the whole mystery of the faith,” for “now,” that is, in light of the Resurrection, Thomas was able to confess Christ as God “without abandoning his devotion to the one God.” After the Resurrection he could continue to recite the Sh’ma because he had begun to conceive of the oneness of God differently. Thomas’s confession “my Lord and my God” was not the “acknowledgement of a second God, nor a betrayal of the unity of the divine nature”: it was a recognition that God was not a “solitary God” or a “lonely God.” God is one, says Hilary, but not alone.”. (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, pp. 91-92)

Thinking About What Is True

St. Paul can write to the Philippians,

‘Whatever is true,

whatever is honorable,

whatever is just,

whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely,

6610275955_be682b1052

whatever is gracious,

if there is any excellence,

if there is anything worthy of praise,

think about these things’

(Phil. 4:8).

Because in thinking about these things, Paul says, our minds are on Jesus Christ. In the next chapter of the same letter he says, ‘Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true’ (Eph. 5:8-9, emphasis added).

Conversely,

anywhere there is deceit or distortion of truth;

where there is a degree of denial on however a deep a level;

game-of-thrones

where we are dishonest- out of convenience or out of the need for power or gratification or out of misinformation or ignorance – or if we are ‘living a lie’;

there is a distance from Christ himself.”

(Peter Bouteneff, Sweeter Than Honey, p 33)

 

 

Jesus is Lord

“‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ (Isaiah 40:13)  But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)

Jesus as Holy Wisdom of God
Jesus as Holy Wisdom of God

 

“Indeed, it is quite astonishing how Paul uses Old Testament texts, speaking of Yahweh with clear reference to Jesus (e.g. Rom. 10:13, 1 Cor. 2:16). Most striking of all is the application of one of the sternest monotheistic passage of the OT (Isa. 45:23) to the exalted Jesus in Phil. 2:10 – a hymn already in circulation before Paul took it up. Here quite clearly ‘Jesus is Lord’ has become a confession not just of divinely given authority, but of divinity itself.” (James Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p 56)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9-11)

Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’  (Isaiah 45:21-23)

The Lord Upon Many Waters

The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice, the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!   (Psalm 93:3-4)

If one pays attention, it is easy to hear that the sound of moving water can be quite loud, even deafening: the thunderous crashing of waves, the roar of a water falls, the down pour of a heavy rain.  Even in our homes, running water in the sink or shower or toilet can be noticeable and can drown out all other sounds around us.    In the world of the bible, in which there are no mechanical devices, engines, motors or explosives, the rushing of water was perhaps one of the loudest, and perhaps most terrifying sound people heard or could imagine.  It is no wonder that the ancients heard in the rushing of waters, the all consuming, destructive force of chaos which only God could tame and order.  Water is necessary for life, but water uncontrolled was nothing but destructive, washing away every bit of human order in its path.  When the ancients envisioned a cataclysmic event consuming the entire earth it was not a fiery conflagration but a great flood of water which engulfed the earth.   Even the fires of hell were not imagined until a later generation of Israelites, but the terrifying chaos of engulfing waters was imagined by the inspired authors of the Bible from the beginning.   God, the Creator of the universe, was understood to be more powerful than the greatest rushing force of flood waters which could sweep across the world.   Even the power of water which nothing could stop was afraid of God.

The waters saw You, O God;

The waters saw You, they were afraid;

The depths also trembled.

The clouds poured out water;

The skies sent out a sound;

Your arrows also flashed about.

The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind;

The lightnings lit up the world;

The earth trembled and shook.

Painting: The Back of the Storm by April Gornik

Your way was in the sea,  Your path in the great waters, and Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.  (Psalm 77:16-20, OSB)

And the waters which cover more than 70% of the earth’s surface were a challenge to navigate for the ancients because of their vastness and because of the unpredictable storms which would sweep across them.  Those same vast oceans were an easy path for God to walk upon.  This is the imagery of the Old Testament.  God alone can walk on the waters without sinking beneath the waves of the sea.  Even in the great miracle of Israel’s escape from Egypt, they did not walk upon the waters, but rather the waters parted before them and they walked on dry ground.    So, in this context, we come to see that the Gospel lesson of Jesus walking on water is portraying Jesus as Lord and God.  It is God alone who can walk on the waters as if they were a path.

The Gospel lesson of St. Matthew 14:22-34 –

Then Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.  But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And  Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

The ancient world knew what threat waters represent when they go over your head or over a ship.

Hull of a sunken ship

Those great rushing waters and waves send you down into the depths of a watery grave.

The Gospel lesson of Christ walking on water while the disciples were terrified calls to mind the verses from Psalm 107:23-31 –

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men!

In the midst of the storm which is tossing the disciples about on their vessel, they hear the voice of the Lord.

The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, upon many waters.  (Psalm 29:3)

It is the voice of Christ who calms both their hearts and the waves of the sea.

“Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

Above the roaring of the waves, the disciples hear the voice of the Lord.  The howling of the wind, the thunder, the roaring of the waves are not the loud voice of God the Lord.  Amidst the stormy chaos, God’s voice is calming.  It is a calm and quiet that silences the raging storm.

“Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”

Saint Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) comments on the Gospel of Christ walking on the water:

‘ And in the fourth watch,’ it says, ‘of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea’ (Matt. 14:25). That is to say, after the ninth hour of the night, because it was customary to divide the night into four consecutive watches, and if the night is reckoned as twelve hours long, the fourth watch begins with the tenth hour. He left them to be tormented this long by the waves to exercise them in patience, and make them able to bear hardship. Then when He appeared He allowed them to think He was a ghost and to be so frightened that they cried out with terror, even though He had come to save them (Matt. 14:26).

You may be aware that He did the same with His people of old. Just at the time when He was about to part the sea miraculously to provide a way to safety, they seemed to be in the utmost danger, hemmed in by inescapable evils with enemies all round (Exod. 14:10). In this present case, too, before the Lord released them from the demons’ oppression, those whom He had come to deliver were deeply troubled at His appearance. For this reason His acts of kindness are not only precious to those who benefit from them, but also unforgettable. As they were calling upon the God of all He appeared to them among the waves, showing that He is ‘the God who is over all’ (Rom. 9:5), who stretches out His hand to help all who entreat Him. While the sea raged, He walked upon the waves, amply demonstrating that He is the one of whom it was foretold that He would walk on the sea as on dry land, to whom David had prophetically addressed the words, ‘Your way is in the sea, and your path in the great waters’ (Ps. 77:19), and ‘You rule the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, you still them’(Ps. 89:9), just as the Lord later did. As soon as He saw that they were terrified because they did not recognize Him, for it was dark, He at once spoke to them, making Himself known by His voice and saying, ‘It is I, be not afraid’ (Matt. 14:27). ‘I AM even HE WHO IS the eternal God (cf. Exod. 3:14), and in these latter days have become man for  your sake. You can see Me and hear My voice and everything is possible for Me. My body can walk on the waves, and I can enable others to do the same.’ ” (The Homilies, p 254)

Calming the Presidential Campaign Rhetoric: Christ is Savior

Lots of Americans on both extremes of the American political spectrum get fervently wound up in election year imagining some apocalypse if their favored presidential candidate does NOT win the election.  I don’t know whether that is the product of the negative campaign ads or the reason the campaigns constantly run those ads.

For Christians, we live by a truth which is outside of the effects of who wins the U.S. presidential election:  Jesus Christ is Lord, God and Savior.

No election can change that simple, yet eternal truth.   So however much we fear the “other” party’s candidate winning the election, we do need to keep perspective.  Jesus Christ is Lord, yesterday, today, forever (Hebrews 13:8).

“As the prominent biblical scholar N.T. Wright says, if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not. The Priene inscription called Caesar ‘savior’ – savior of the world, bringer of peace and justice to which Paul says, ‘No way!’ We must add, therefore, that if God is savior, Caesar is not. And if God’s salvation, including peace and justice, comes through Jesus, then it does not come through Caesar – or any other political or imperial force or figure.” (Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul, pg. 44)

That “any other political or imperial force or figure” includes the President of the United States and the United States itself.  Just for the sake of a little humility for us Americans and to deal with our own hubris, we might remember that the devil in Luke 4:5-6 when tempting Jesus says all the authority and glory of every kingdom on earth belongs to him, and he offers it to Jesus who refuses it.   Salvation comes through Jesus Christ, not through the US, or through the US only if the right man gets elected president.  Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of lords, showed little interest in governments and their power.

None of this is to say that it doesn’t matter who wins the election.  Since we do believe in free will, every decision matters and has its effect, great or small, on the universe.  But the complexity of the universe and the the love of God interact in such a manifold matrix, that we have Christ testifying to the fact that God the Father gives both rain and sunshine to the good and evil, the just and the unjust, the righteous and the unrighteous:

“… your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)

Jesus attributes this particular behavior of God to His love, and then goes on to say we are to be as perfect in this love as God.   So we as Christians can have strong partisan, even polarizing, political feelings, but then as Christians, we are obliged to love the other as God does.