Palm Sunday (2018)

When the Lord entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it was the only time when there was public acclamation of Him as Messiah and King.  In our joining the celebration, we declare Jesus to be our Lord, which has great implications for our daily life.

The significance of this ascription of lordship to the risen Christ is also fairly clear, though it can be exaggerated. At the very least, kyrios denoted an asserted or acknowledged dominance and right of disposal of superior over inferior – whether simply master over slave, king over subject, or, by extension, god over worshiper. To confess someone as one’s “lord” expressed an attitude of subserviencey and a sense of belonging or devotion to the one so named. And if the confession was used in baptism (as seems likely in Rom. 10.9), it would also indicated a transfer of allegiance and change in acknowledged ownership. At the very least, then, the confession of Jesus as Lord betokened a life now committed to his service.   (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul, p. 247)

“The followers of Jesus of Nazareth founded an early Jewish movement centered on a charismatic figure who offered hope for an ideal future in which the power of the God of Israel would be dramatically manifested and universally recognized. The movement they began was not however, the only one of its kind. Other such movements, dating back from the first century BCE to the second century CE, promised a sudden end of the present age, which they regarded as evil and corrupt, and the inauguration of a new age in which God’s people would see the wicked punished and the world ruled in righteousness.

Notably, this king accomplishes his goals not by military might; his weapon is ‘the word of his mouth,’ based on Isaiah 11.4.

One major function of the Messiah is to bring about God’s justice by defeating all agents of oppression, human and superhuman (Pss. Sol. 17.34, Ezra 13.38). However, the focus of the texts is less on the messianic figure than on the messianic age, the time when God’s justice rather than Satan or Empire, would prevail.”  (The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 530, 531)

We are in Holy Week – the week in which God reveals His true nature to us.   God is Holy and it turns out that holiness also means humble and self-sacrificing.

The Prophet Moses

Christ and Moses

Through Great Lent and Holy Week, excerpts from two books of Moses from the Torah are read: Genesis during the week days of Great Lent and Exodus during Holy Week.  Moses is portrayed in the Scriptures as God’s chosen servant, but He also serves as an intercessor for the chosen people before the Lord God.  He advocates for the people – despite their rebellious sinfulness, Moses intercedes with God that He will not judge and destroy them in His wrath but rather that He will save them from evil.  Even when God is wrathfully angry with the people, Moses intercedes for them.   Moses prefigures Christ, and is an advocate on earth for Israel.  Christ ascended into heaven as high priest and is once and for all our heavenly intercessor.  Christ reconciles us to God eternally.  So Christ indeed not only fulfills the prophecy that God will raise up for His people a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22), but one who exceeds what Moses was able to do.   Christ leads us not to an earthly promised land as Moses led the people, but as we sing at Pascha Christ leads us “from death to life and from earth to heaven.”

“Moses clearly perceives the seriousness of the situation, both the gravity of Israel’s sin and the burning rage of divine wrath. Yet as God’s chosen prophet he does no simply acquiesce to the script that lies before him. He does not kneel in obedience to the whims of the deity. He stands in the breach between God and his people and attempts to make amends. “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people,” he begins, echoing the words of God himself, “whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” These are not my people, Moses counters, they are yours, those you led out of Egypt. Moses does not stop there; this is not a matter of linguistic precision about the status of the elected nation. He launches a frontal attack on the very character of God. “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains…’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind,…Remember Abraham, Issac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land I have promised I will give to your descendants and they shall inherit it forever.’” With this Moses rests his case. And the verdict? “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”” (Gary A. Anderson, In Dominco Eloquio – In Lordly Eloquence, pg.22)  

Moses refuses to be saved apart from God’s people.  He does not want to be saved himself if God is not going to save all of His people.  In identifying himself so closely with the people, Moses wins God’s favor for the people because God is not willing to destroy His chosen servant Moses.  If Moses is choosing to identify himself with the people of God, then God will save the people in order to save Moses.

Christ too though He is God identifies with God’s people for our salvation.   Christ descends from heaven and becomes incarnate as a human to completely identify Himself with us in order to save us from sin and death.  He identifies Himself with us to save us from any impending judgment against us – through His life, death, resurrection and intercession, He cancels all of our debt to God and all the righteous judgment which could have been visited upon us.  He restores us to God, ending all enmity between us and making us again an object of God’s love by canceling the debt of our sin.

Jesus the Key to Understanding Torah

One of the Resurrectional Gospel Lessons used in Orthodox worship is Luke 24:13-35, which is read as part of the recurring readings for Sunday Matins.   In this reading, our Lord Jesus risen from the dead is speaking with two of His disciples as these disciples are leaving Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Christ.  The disciples had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but his execution had dashed their hopes.  They leave Jerusalem despondently, though puzzled by what to make of the rumors they had heard about His being risen from the dead.  Jesus joins them in their walk, though they do not recognize their Risen Lord. After listening to their disappointment in what had happened, Jesus spoke to them, and here I’ll mention only two things He says to these despairing disciples:

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you: that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:42‑47)

 Basically what the Risen Lord reveals to these two disciples of His is that the Old Testament indeed is a treasury of God’s riches. But it remains locked in its vault until the key is given to open the vault. That key is Christ Himself.  (see also Christ is the Key to Open the Scriptural Treasury).  The key to understand all the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments and all 613 laws of the Torah, including the history, the psalms and the prophecies is Jesus the Messiah.  That of course is going to be one of the main points of disagreement between Christians and Jews to this day. Christians accept the notion that Jesus is more important than either Torah or Temple, and that in fact He replaces both of them in by fulfilling their original purposes, thus enacting a New Covenant/Testament between God and His People.

The Evangelist John records Jesus saying to His fellow Jews:  “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf” (John 5:39). As in the Gospel lesson of Jesus with His two traveling disciples in Luke 24, so too in John 5 Jesus teaches that the Scriptures – the entire Old Testament – serve the purpose of helping to reveal or point out the Messiah.  Jesus fulfills all the promises, prophecies and apocalyptical sayings found in the Jewish Scriptures.

Next: Reading the Old Testament with Christ

Isaiah’s Foretelling of the Messiah

 Sermon from 12 December 1993

Gospel: Luke 14:16-24

A long time before the Messiah was born, in fact almost 750 years before the birth of the Christ, a prophet of God told the nation of Israel that they would be a light to the Nations of the world. This Prophet, named Isaiah, told them that they would be God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

Now this prophecy that Israel would be a light to the world and the salvation of the nations, came at an unsual time. For while Isaiah was telling the people of their unique role in history, they were in the Process of being conquered by the Assyrians. Isaiah was prophesying that Israel would do something great for the entire world at the same moment that Israel was being defeated by its enemies.

But that seems to be how God often works His plan of salvation. In the midst of what seems total defeat, and humanly impossible to salvage, God works out His plan for the salvation of the world.

And God’s plan for salvation does not require that He have on His side the people with the most money, nor the nation with the biggest army, nor the people who think themselves most important, nor most enlightened, nor most progessive.

God’s plan for the salvation of the world is in no way based upon human merit. God is not controlled by human merit and does not have to respond to it. For God is a sovereign Lord, whose Goodness is not derived from the good behavior of his subjects. Rather God is good, loving and gracious in His own inner being, and He acts according to His nature, not just in response to our good and bad behavior.

We learn of God’s true loving and grace-filled nature in the story of the Exodus and in the story of the Cross, for in both cases God loves us even when we are not very lovable. He saves us despite ourselves.

Today, our Lord told us a parable about a banquet which he had prepared and for which he had prepared a people. However, those prepared for and invited to the feast, declined to come. These people are all too busy with their own lives, problems, concerns, dreams and prosperity to take time to come to the feast which has been prepared for them. And so others are invited to the feast, and these others are not a very attractive lot, they are outcasts, and handicapped and homeless. They do not deserve an invite to such a great banquet, but they are welcomed into the feast.

Brothers and Sisters, God prepared for Himself a people to come to His feast, but many have turned away from this invitation in order to pursue their own interests in life. You and I are the ones who have chosen to accept the invitation of the Master. We should be forever humbled, grateful and thankful for this invitation, because we are the outcasts and misfits of the parable. We are here only by God’s grace, not by our merit.

We are here because somehow we know, somehow we believe, somehow in the depths of our hearts we hope that this invitation, this eucharistic banquet, this Christian way of life, in fact fulfills all of the hopes and dreams of our hearts. Somehow we understand that it is not pursuing our own private dreams that will give us fulfillment in this world. Those who have tried this in the past ended up outside of the banquet. Our hearts are to be set on the kingdom of God. For this Kingdom is the sole source of happiness for the entire world.

The birth of Jesus Christ brings revelation to us about what is true and what is important and what is worth living for and what we should pursue with all our hearts and minds. And that deep and abiding happiness which can never be taken away cannot be found in a Mall, nor under a tree nor in Santa’s sack.

As St. Simeon prayed in Luke’s Gospel: (Luke 2:29-32)

“Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Whether we can understand this or not, Christianity is not the abolition of our dreams, but rather their fulfillment. In faith and in love, we can experience that fulfillment with thanksgiving at this altar, at every liturgy, at every feast.

Daily Concerns – Missing Christ at Christmas

Sermon from 16 December 1990    Sunday of the Forefathers

Luke 14:16-24        Colossians 3:4-11

Have you ever wondered how it was possible for the Jews, God’s chosen people, to miss the coming of the Messiah? God chose the Jews to be His own people, he rescued them countless times from military defeat, from slavery, exile, and from their own sins. God sent His Holy Spirit upon certain men and women among the Jews to lead, guide and teach them about how to live and about His coming Messiah. He chose men and women to serve as prophets, priests, kings and judges, to shape and direct the people so that they could recognize the Messiah and their own destiny as God’s elect people in the world. They were chosen to be the light to the world and the salt of the earth. Yet these same Jews on countless occasions failed God, and did not faithfully fulfill their vocation. In fact, in their greatest moment of all, when God stood in their midst, the Jews did not recognize who Jesus was. They rejected their God and crucified the Messiah.


Today’s scripture lessons offer us two reasons why God’s people fail in their God-given vocation. In today’s epistle reading we learn how sin prevents people from fulfilling their vocation. The Lord Jesus also told us a parable about how the concerns for daily living blind people to God’s activity and calling in the world.

These two factors – pre-occupation with daily concerns and sinfulness prevented the Jews of old from living for God’s Kingdom, and will prevent us today from doing the same.

How do daily concerns and sinfulness prevent us from doing God’s will?

First, let us look at the effects of sinfulness on our lives and our ability to live for God’s Kingdom.

St. Paul in his letter to the Church at Colossae said that we must put to death everything in ourselves that prevents us from doing God’s will. Here are his words as recorded in the Amplified Bible:

So when Christ Who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. So kill the evil desire lurking in you – those animal impulses and all that is earthly in you that is employed in sin: sexual vice, impurity, sensual appetites, unholy desires, and all greed and covetousness, for that is idolatry…….. Put away and rid yourselves completely of all these things: anger, rage, bad feeling towards others, curses and slander and foulmouthed abuse and shameful utterances from your lips. Do not lie to one another…. (3:5,8)

What Paul is saying is,`Put to death every part of your self which is against God and keeps you from fulfilling His will.’” (Wm. Barclay). We must kill in ourselves our own self-centeredness and selfishness. Because it is our sinful selfishness and sinful self-centeredness which prevents us from seeking and doing God’s will. This is why the Lord Jesus calls us to repentance from the first time he spoke to us. He invites us to break free from our bondage to sinful self-centeredness and to turn to God.

But what happened when Christ called people to repentance and pointed out their sinfulness?

Yes, they became angry and wanted to kill him. They totally missed the invitation to God’s Kingdom and the Great Messianic Banquet because they wanted to continue in their sinful and self centered ways. They were not willing to die to their sinful desires through repentance. Instead, they defiantly killed the one who could save them from themselves. Their sinfulness got the upper hand and they tried to destroy the Kingdom of God.

Now there is a second reason given in the scripture as to why the Jews rejected their God. The first was the sinfulness and selfishness we just spoke of. The second reason comes from the first but is more subtle in its work in us. In the Parable of the Great Banquet, Jesus told us how concern for daily affairs caused Israel to reject God’s will and His Kingdom.

When the Master issued His invitation to the Great Banquet, what did the people say?

They all alike began to offer excuses for why they would not come – one just bought land and wanted to go see it, another bought a team of oxen and wanted to try them out, and another said he had just gotten married so he could not come. Each person had a reason as to why he could not enter into the Grand Banquet of the Master.

Those excuses continue with us today. One says, “We just bought a house and are busy moving, fixing things up and getting settled in, therefore we don’t have time for God’s Kingdom right now.” Another says, “My job is very demanding, and I have to work a lot of overtime and then I need my free time to relax and work around the house, I don’t have time for God’s Kingdom.” And the third one says, “I have a lot of family commitments, visiting in-laws, helping my children, there just aren’t enough hours in the day, so I don’t have time for God’s Kingdom right now.”

These excuses are more subtle, for they aren’t sinful exactly, and they aren’t lies. But concern with daily affairs also caused the Jews to completely miss our Messiah, God’s Son in the flesh. We must get to the point where our lives are so centered on and connected with the Kingdom of God that our homes, jobs and families become the very points at which we are preparing ourselves for the Kingdom rather then excuses for why we have no time for God.

Today’s Scripture Lessons are not meant to blame the Jews for spiritual failure.  They are given to us for our edification so that we can learn how to live.  We cannot change what people in the past did, but we can learn to change our own behavior.  My friends, let us put off our old and sinful selves, so that we can clearly see God’s Kingdom in our midst. Let us repent of sins so that we can be healed by Christ and reunited to God. Let us openly denounce sin and selfishness whenever it is exposed in our lives. In this way we will be able to see God’s Kingdom and love God’s Son and we will overcome the evil one.

Orthodoxy in the World: Beginnings

This is the 2nd blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World and Light to the World

1st Century Christian Congregations

           It was in this time period of pressure to change in 1st Century Palestine that Jesus himself was born, grew up and gathered a group of followers, his disciples, who believed him to be the promised messiah of Israel.   They  began spreading their message to the world.   And they  naturally used the means already existing in Judaism for spreading the faith – the synagogue system which focused on a study of the written word of God and the revelation of God they believed it contained, and the Septuagint, using the Greek language to make the new Christian teachings accessible to the entire culture surrounding Judaism.  

            And Christianity did rapidly spread among Greek speaking people throughout the Roman Empire.   The Christians composed some of their own writings as well, letters of the new movements leaders and also a new genre of literature known as the Gospel, all written in Greek, the unofficial language of the nascent Christian movement.   In fact that part of the Christian scriptures which is unique to Christianity was all originally written in Greek, and only later translated into Latin.   Historical and archeological findings and documents show that from the beginning of Christianity well into the 5th Century, the vast majority of Christians were Greek speaking, even as the faith spread throughout the Roman Empire and into territories beyond the Empire. 

3rd Century Distribution of Christianity

 And as the Christian movement became more established it became increasingly comfortable with the Greek language and also with Greek religious and philosophical concepts and perspectives.  It was in this world that many of the early Christian theological concepts were conceived and accepted as true expressions of the faith.   Of course these concepts were debated and in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire they were given further cross pollination as a mixture of Greek, Syriac and Coptic forms of Christianity wrestled with terminology that might best express the faith.

            The rapidly growing Christian movement also found itself in a hostile world.  It’s claims and teachings pitted it against some forms of traditional Judaism.  Christianity was definitely a messianic sect, whereas some forms of Judaism were not messianic.  Christianity was not based in or dependent on the temple in Jerusalem – a temple which King Herod had built just prior to Jesus’s own birth and this temple had given rise to a new Jewish nationalism and pride which then fed messianism.   Christianity also came to believe that not only was Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah the correct understanding of God’s Teachings, but that Jesus himself was more important than the Torah, an idea that was repugnant to many Jews for whom the Torah was more important than the Temple.    The Christians found themselves unwanted in Jerusalem and often expelled from the Jewish synagogues which were spread throughout the Mediterranean region. 

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World: The Roman Empire

The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (2010)

Meeting of the Lord

February 2 is in the Orthodox Church the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple.  The feast commemorates the infant Jesus being brought into the Temple In Jerusalem by his parents in fulfillment of the Torah; the event is described in the Gospel according to St. Luke 2:22-40.

In the late 4th Century, the presentation of Christ into the temple was celebrated on Christmas day as part of one feast which included everything from the birth of Christ to His being brought into the Jerusalem temple.    St. Gregory of Nazianzus in his Theophany sermon in 380AD recounts the events they and all the cosmos had celebrated at the birth of Christ:

“There at his birth we kept festival as was fitting, both I the leader of the feast, and you, and all that is in the world and above the world.  With the star we ran, and with the magi we worshipped, and with the shepherds we were surrounded by light, and with the angels we gave glory.  With Symeon we took him in our arms, and with aged and chaste Anna we gave thanks.  And thanks be to the one who came to his own as a stranger, that he might glorify his host.” 

Nonna Harrison in the footnotes to her translation of St. Gregory of Nazianzus’s FESTAL ORATIONS  says the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord was celebrated on February 2 in Jerusalem in the early 380’s.  It was first celebrated in Constantinople in 534AD before becoming a Feast day throughout the Orthodox world. 

Part of the celebration of the feast is noting that there were some in Israel who believed the promises and prophesies of God and thus were prepared to understand when they witnessed their fulfillment.  Among these faithful are John the Baptizer, Mary the Theotokos, Joseph the Betrothed, the righteous Simeon,the prophetess Anna, the noble Joseph, Mary and Martha,  and the Twelve Apostles.   It has always been the case that there have been within Israel a faithful remnant, as the prophets themselves learned when they despaired of Israel’s status (for example, as Elijah learned in 1 Kings 19:14-18).

God’s Word does not return to Him empty, for it always finds those hearts which have been spiritually cultivated and are receptive to the good seed of His Word (Isaiah 55:10-11).

The Feast of the Meeting honors not only those prepared to witness the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies.  It also celebrates the fulfillment of the Law, which thus brings the purpose of the Torah to its completion.  For when Christ enters the temple, the purpose of the Temple and all of the Torah are brought to completion having served their purpose in God’s plan of salvation.  Righteousness has been fulfilled, the temple as God’s dwelling place is fulfilled.  They all were given by God to prepare His people for what He intended to do and reveal in His Messiah.

The Pre-Eternal God Born as a Child

Holy Family Icon

Christians celebrate the birth of the Messiah as an essential part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  Jesus Christ is believed to be the Word of God incarnate – God become flesh as John writes in his Gospel (John 1:1-14).   Was it only Christians who believed in the pre-existence of the Messiah – that is that before His birth, Jesus already existed in some form as the Son of God?   In the Scriptures, the Prophet Micah says:  

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days”   (Micah 5:2).  

The idea that the Messiah somehow pre-existed is found in the Jewish Scriptures.  The Jewish Targum, an official translation/interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures to help people understand the meaning of the text, paraphrased Micah to say:  “And you O Bethlehem Ephrath… from you shall come forth before Me the Messiah, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned from before, from the days of creation.”   Biblical scholar Craig Evans notes,

“This paraphrase is not only messianic, but it is the one passage in the targums where the pre-existence of the Messiah is hinted at, an aspect that certainly coheres with Johannine Christology.”  (WORD AND GLORY, p31).   

 It was not the Christians who added to or exaggerated the claims about Jesus being the Son of God from the creation of the world.  Rather the Christians simply took the Jewish claims  about the Messiah seriously.

Christ Abolishes the Wall of Separation

Christ Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.   (Ephesians 2:14-22)

St. Paul’s argument in Chapter 2 of his Epistle to the Ephesians is that the coming of the Messiah has meant the end to the distinction between Jew and Gentiles, between the Nation of Israel and the nations of the world.  God has overcome all human divisions through the cosmic salvation brought about in Jesus the Word of God become flesh.  Even “the middle wall of separation” – that wall which prevented the Gentiles from entering into the Jerusalem Temple sanctuary which was by Jewish custom reserved for male Jews only – has been broken down, making it possible for all people of the world to have access to God and to salvation in the Church.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.   (Galatians 3:27-28 RSV)

Strangely in Orthodox history, the Church eventually reconstructs a dividing wall not only between believers and non-believers, but also between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, and then even between the ordained Orthodox and the non-ordained.    For ultimately the iconostasis is built as a re-established dividing wall of separation to keep all but the elite away from the altar; this, despite the clear references throughout the New Testament to the dividing walls being ended by Christ (see for example Matthew 27:51 or Hebrews 8:1-6, 9:6-11, 10:19-25).

George Fedotov in his THE RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS MIND writes critically of what happened to Christianity in its early history because of its success in converting the Roman Empire to the faith:

“The ancient Church was the heir of the cult of both the Synagogue and the Hellenistic mysteries. … The mysteries were destined for the few, for the initiates only.  Yet since the whole Empire belonged to the initiates, the mysteries were brought forth to the masses.   The danger of this vulgarization was met by a retroactive process.  The Church now tried to protect and to hide the mysteries again, particularly the Eucharist, which is the core of the Church life and its cult.  Hence the tendency, and afterward the rule of pronouncing secretly the prayers of consecration as well as many others; the development of the altar railing into the high Iconostasis, completely hiding the sanctuary from the lay people.  Hence also, under the use of late neoplatonic theurgical language, the new verbal vestment of mysteries, which made them sublime and inaccessible, even dangerous for the unworthy…”  (p. 52, Volume 3 of his collected works). 

The solid and high Iconostasis was the rebuilding of the middle wall torn down by Christ.  Though some in the Orthodox world would defend it saying the wall merely holds the Icons which are windows into heaven.  But it would be strange to erect a solid wall where none existed just to place a window in it.   And we are allowed to look into heaven but not into the altar?

We are baptized into Christ – this is the fulfillment of the theological notion that God became human so that humans might become God.  We are united to God in the mysteries of Baptism and the Eucharist, but then separated from one another by a wall which seems to declare that for some the mystery of Baptism was not all that effective and leaves them still on the other side – the wrong side – of a wall which Christ supposedly had torn down according to St. Paul.

The oneness of the Body of Christ though is preserved in the words of the Liturgy in which we continue to pray in the “we” and “us.”   Let us lift up our hearts, let us give thanks to the Lord.   All the baptized faithful participate together in

Christ Liberating Prisoners at Dachau Concentration Camp

the elevation and consecration of the gifts.    “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”   (Romans 8:38-39 RSV).

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself  being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

The parish is the place where we live out our relationship to Christ and to our fellow Christians within the Body of Christ.  St. Paul’s very description of a Christian is that we are part of the household of God.  One Christian is no Christian.  We can only be a Christian in relationship to all other Christians but especially in relationship with the Christians in the local community where we both receive and become the Body of Christ.

Keeping Torah: The Means to the End

10commadmentsThis is the 2nd blog in a series in which I am reflecting on St. Paul’s comment, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God”  (Galatians 2:19).   The first blog was entitled, “Through the Law, I died to the Law: St. Paul and Torah.”  For St. Paul the failure of the Torah was that the Jews made keeping the Torah the center of their spiritual life, rather than keeping faith in God.   They should have done both, but became focused on the minutiae of rules.  

The proof of the problem for St. Paul is that when God acted and sent the Messiah, Jesus, into the world, the Jews were so intent on keeping Torah, and defining their relationship to God wholly in terms of keeping Torah, that they did not recognize what God was doing.  They didn’t see the Christ for whom the Torah was meant to prepare them and help them recognize because they made keeping the Law the goal of their spiritual life.  They had substituted an active faithful relationship with God by embracing the form of religion while denying its power.  They replaced faith in God with keeping the Law.  For St. Paul the Law ended up blinding them to God, and what God was doing for them.

As St. Paul sees it, the Jews had substituted strict adherence to the law for the faith it was supposed to show they had.  They became obsessed with watching who was or wasn’t keeping every jot and tittle of the Law, and became obsessed with the fact that since they alone were keeping Torah, they alone were favored by God.   They were supposed to keep faith with God in order to be a Light to the world’s other nations, but instead saw themselves as the only people God cared about.   They could not see that God was actually continuing to act in the world – sending the Messiah into the world for the life of the world, and for its salvation, to be the Light to the nations, to bring all people to Himself.

Moses10CommandsSt. Paul in his conversion experience recognized that what he was aiming to perfect as a Pharisee – strict adherence to Torah — in fact had become a failure in faith; for the Jews had missed God’s chosen One when He appeared on earth.  Keeping Torah was meant to keep all of Israel faithful, but it wasn’t working as the Jews had rejected God’s chosen Messiah.    In Paul’s conversion he realized that God in fact had fulfilled His promises to His people in Jesus.  Keeping the Law did not prevent Paul from seeing the truth, rather what Jesus revealed to him was that the coming of Christ was the very thing for which keeping Torah was preparing him and all Jews.   The Law had done its job in Paul:  in seeing Christ, he was temporarily blinded which led to his proclaiming that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s plan and promises.  The Law had thus kept Paul faithful to God, to His promises, to His plan.  But now that the Christ had come, Paul realized keeping Torah was not what God had wanted for His people, but rather keeping Torah was the means to the end; the end being remaining faithful to God.    Astoundingly, the strict adherence to keeping Torah had caused many Jews to reject Jesus as the Messiah and to demand his crucifixion for not keeping Torah!  It turns out that keeping Torah didn’t mean just strict adherence to the Law, but rather being faithful to God and His plan of salvation which He revealed in Jesus Christ.   Having faith in God was always both the goal and the desired behavior. 

Next:  Keeping Torah: Examples of Faith