Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Day 12: Encounters with Skeptics

Summary: Chapter 12

  • Lord of the Sabbath

  • Healing on the Sabbath?

  • The Chosen Servant

  • Casting Out Demons

  • He Who is Not with Me is Against Me

  • Good Tree, Good Fruit

  • Give Us a Sign

  • Who is My Mother?

An overall theme for this day might be, “Haven’t we covered some of this ground before?” Indeed, we have! Perhaps the events and questions that arise once again will give us new opportunities to see deeper into what our Lord wants us to know. There are also a few instances of what might be called, “discontinuities” – where the subject apparently shifts, without being clear as to why.

I’m going to try a new format – new, at least to this blog. Rather than posting the entire chapter, and then following it with comments, each day (for now, anyway) will begin with the chapter summary and some introductory comments. Then, each subdivision will begin with the text from the Gospel for that day, followed by comments. That might make things a little more coherent. I’m open to suggestions, if there is something you’d like to see here.

Lord of the Sabbath

12:1 At that time, Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the grain fields. His disciples were hungry and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 12:2 But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said to him, “Behold, your disciples do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 12:3 But he said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him; 12:4 how he entered into God’s house, and ate the show bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 12:5 Or have you not read in the law, that on the Sabbath day, the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are guiltless? 12:6 But I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 12:7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 12:8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

It was a violation of the Mosaic law to do any work on the Sabbath. Indeed, there was even a limit set on how far you were permitted to walk on the Sabbath. As such, the Pharisees – whose focus, remember, was on strict adherence to the Law – had ample grounds for the charge they made against the disciples. They were harvesting grain (work); they were rubbing the grain between their hands to remove the husks, a crude form of threshing (work); and they were walking in the fields (which was also classified as work). In response, our Lord reminds them of a time when David, while fleeing from King Saul, entered the temple, and ate the bread that the Law required to be placed on the altar in the Temple. Fresh loaves were put out daily; and the old loaves were then reserved to be eaten only by the priests of the Temple.

This incident is found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. It is interesting to note that David went to the Temple to ask for something for his men to eat. When the priest, Ahimelech, told David that the only bread they had was the showbread, David asked if some could be given to his men. Ahimelech said this was possible of the men had not touched women – that is, if they were not ceremonially unclean. When David replied that his men were not unclean, Ahimelech gave David the bread for him and his men to eat. How was it that Ahimelech could do this? He recognized that the ceremonial law could be set aside to meet genuine needs; and that compassion for others is the foundation upon which the Law was established. The Pharisees seem to have forgotten this, in their zeal to obey the outward requirements of the Law. Our Lord also questions the Pharisees on the apparent contradiction of the Law that regularly took place on the Sabbath. No work was to be done, yet the priests of the Temple made the sacrifices appointed for the day – which was, after all, their work. So, clearly, the “blanket prohibition” against work of the Pharisees was lacking in understanding; something that becomes all the more clear in Isaiah 58:6-7, where the Lord, through the prophet, says that an acceptable day of fasting – required in the Law – is one on which wickedness ceases, the yoke of oppression is removed, and bread is given to those who are hungry. Biblical scholars that they were, the Pharisees thus were not ignorant of how the Law could be interpreted along the lines our Lord set before them.

In verse 7, we come to the first of the repetitions of incidents, when our Lord tells them, as He did in chapter 9, verse 10, that they do not understand the command of the Lord, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” This, too, is guidance into the proper interpretation of the Law. More than that: The place of the Law for the people of God is changing; for the Lord Who gave the Law has now come into the midst of His people; the Lord Who ordered the keeping of the Sabbath is the Lord of the Sabbath.

Who is the “Son of Man?” It is a title that Jesus (and only Jesus) uses, presumably, in reference to Himself. The prophet Daniel has a vision in which he sees someone he describes as, “like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” who is brought to the “Ancient of Days,” and given sovereign power, glory, and authority to act. The son of man, says Daniel, shall be worshipped by all nations in a kingdom that will never end. (Dan. 7:13-14)

Healing on the Sabbath?

12:9 He departed there, and went into their synagogue. 12:10 And behold there was a man with a withered hand. They asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?” that they might accuse him. 12:11 He said to them, “What man is there among you, who has one sheep, and if this one falls into a pit on the Sabbath day, won’t he grab on to it, and lift it out? 12:12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.” 12:13 Then he told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out; and it was restored whole, just like the other. 12:14 But the Pharisees went out, and conspired against him, how they might destroy him.

The controversy about the Sabbath continues in this pericope. In the synagogue (where the Pharisees taught the Law), Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Once again, the Pharisees question Him, for now it is not His disciples who have worked on the Sabbath, but the Lord Himself. His reply is straightforward: using the example of how no one would hesitate to do “work” by rescuing a farm animal of his, He makes the point we need to know: It is, in fact, lawful to do good on the Sabbath day. For this, the Pharisees begin to conspire against Him.

The Chosen Servant

12:15 Jesus, perceiving that, withdrew from there. Great multitudes followed him; and he healed them all, 12:16 and commanded them that they should not make him known: 12:17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 12:18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit on him. He will proclaim justice to the nations. 12:19 He will not strive, nor shout; neither will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 12:20 He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a smoking flax, until he leads justice to victory. 12:21 In his name, the nations will hope.”

The closing verses here are a quotation from the book of the prophet Isaiah (42:1-4). This is one of four “servant songs” found in Isaiah. These “servant songs” are interpreted as references to the Messiah, whose coming the Jews still await, but whom Christians identify with our Lord Jesus. The word, “Messiah” means “the Lord’s Anointed One” – the same meaning as the word, “Christ.” Why would the Lord direct the crowds not to tell anyone who He was? This takes place repeatedly in the Gospels. (See, for example, ch. 8:4) Some commentators say that this was to avoid being seen primarily as a miracle worker; or that He did not want the teaching aspect of His mission to be overshadowed by miraculous healings; or that He did not want to provoke a response that would result in His death before His mission had been completed. St. John Chrysostom tells us that He did so to teach us to avoid boasting about anything we have accomplished, even in the service of God. Instead, we are to give the glory for anything we have been able to do to God, Who has given us life, and the abilities and opportunities to do what we might otherwise be tempted to take credit for ourselves.

Casting Out Demons

12:22 Then one possessed by a demon, blind and mute, was brought to him and he healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 12:23 All the multitudes were amazed, and said, “Can this be the son of David?” 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man does not cast out demons, except by Beelzebul, the prince of the demons.” 12:25 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 12:26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 12:27 If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 12:28 But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. 12:29 Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and plunder his goods, unless he first bind the strong man? Then he will plunder his house.”

The crowd, witnessing the Lord casting out a demon that had made a man blind and mute, asks, “Can this be the son of David?” This title was one by which the Jews regularly referred to the Messiah. (We first saw this title in Matthew 1:1 – “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”) The Pharisees repeat the accusation they made before (in Matt. 10:25) – “He casts out demons by the prince of demons” – Beelzebul. (See the discussion about this name in the entry for chapter 10.) Our Lord replies by pointing out the logical fallacy of their argument – how can Satan’s kingdom survive if those who serve him – the demons – are also cast out by him? Our Lord is also not the only person who is casting out demons; remember, the twelve were given this ability when they were sent out on their missionary journey in chapter 10. He then confronts them with the reality of the situation, which they did not seem to want to face: if it is illogical for Satan to cast out his servants, then it is only possible for them to be cast out by the power of God; and since this is taking place in their presence, it can only mean that the kingdom of God has, as foretold by St. John the Baptizer, and proclaimed by our Lord Jesus, come into their midst. He then reinforces the point with the example of the person who enters the house of the “strong man” – Satan – and ties him up, so as to plunder his house. This we understand as what will take place when our Lord descends into hades, breaks the bars of the gates of death, and leads from there the souls of those held captive by death. He enters the house of the “strong man”; binds him; and plunders what had, until that time, belonged to him. St. John Chrysostom, by the way, points out that it is not that Satan is “strong”; rather, this speaks to the tyranny he had over us, which is based upon our transgressions.

He Who is Not with Me is Against Me

12:30 “He who is not with me is against me, and he who doesn’t gather with me, scatters. 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 12:32 Whoever 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, neither in this age, nor in that which is to come.

Keep verse 30 in mind; we’re going to encounter a verse that appears to directly contradict it. Not right away; but we’ll get there, by God’s grace. The verse means exactly what it says, by the way. But what is the “blasphemy against the Spirit” that will not be forgiven?

Some commentators say that the context of this part of chapter 12 suggests that this sin is giving Satan credit for the miracles done in the power of the Holy Spirit. St. John Chrysostom sees it as being aware that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that demons are cast out, but denying this and instead saying that it is done by the power of Satan, as if ignorant of the truth. Granted, these descriptions are almost the same; but the deliberate choice to ignore the truth and proclaim a lie, as St. John points out, means that those who have done so have hardened their heart; and this to such a degree that, like the angels, those who commit this sin will refuse to change their minds, and repent – and so there is no forgiveness for them.

Good Tree, Good Fruit
12:33 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good, or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit. 12:34 You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. 12:35 The good man out of his good treasure brings out good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things. 12:36 I tell you that every idle word that men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 12:37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Does this really need any explanation? I didn’t think so!

Give Us a Sign

12:38 Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 12:39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, but no sign will be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 12:41 The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation, and will condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, someone greater than Jonah is here. 12:42 The queen of the south will rise up in the judgment with this generation, and will condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, someone greater than Solomon is here. 12:43 But the unclean spirit, when he is gone out of the man, passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and doesn’t find it. 12:44 Then he says, ‘I will return into my house from which I came out,’ and when he has come back, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. 12:45 Then he goes, and takes with himself seven other spirits more evil than he is, and they enter in and dwell there. The last state of that man becomes worse than the first. Even so will it be also to this evil generation.”

This is an interesting exchange, because, in fact, signs of the Kingdom were being presented – for those who wanted to see them. Remember the dialogue between our Lord and the disciples of St. John the Baptizer at the beginning of chapter 11. What signs? “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (11:5) Why, then, do the scribes and Pharisees given the answer set forth here?

The scribes are the teachers of the Law; the Pharisees are strict followers of the Law. Of all those in Israel, these groups should have been best equipped to recognize the Messiah when He came; but instead they are called an evil and adulterous generation, for they had not kept faith with God and the covenant God had established with them. Even so, our Lord tells them what to look for, by citing events they should have known for themselves: Jonah, who was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights; and who then went to the city of Nineveh, and warned them of the wrath of God about to come upon them – to which they responded by repentance and amendment of their ways, and so were spared. They believed the prophet of God, even without any miraculous sign – and now one greater than Jonah has come to them, and they will not believe. This is why the people of that pagan city will condemn the people of God who did not recognize when the Messiah had come. So, too, the queen of the south, who came to King Solomon to learn of earthly matters as understood by his great wisdom. Yet the Christ, Who possesses a wisdom of things of heaven, otherwise inexpressible, is not welcomed by those who should have known Him, and so they are condemned.

Who is My Mother?

12:46 While he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, seeking to speak to him. 12:47 One said to him, “Behold, your mother and your brothers stand outside, seeking to speak to you.” 12:48 But he answered him who spoke to him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 12:49 He stretched out his hand towards his disciples, and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! 12:50 For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Here again, we have a very straightforward presentation. In the services of the Orthodox Church, we often hear this passage read for the feasts of the Theotokos. It is not, as some non-Orthodox interpret this, a rejection of the importance the Church has always had with respect to the Mother of God; rather, it is an expansion of the privilege of being considered a member of the household of our Lord, which cannot but also include the virgin who gave birth to Him – His Mother. What is the criterion for being included? All those who, as did our Lord, do the will of God are members of His household, He being our older brother – and if we are related to Him, then we are also related to her – right? Of course, right!

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Monday, June 29, 2009

A Pause in the Disaster...

My apologies to those who may be following this blog in real time. Due to other responsibilities, we're off track here -- not for the first time! I either need to find a way to do this briefly -- if you look closely, you'll notice that a number of the entries have been made in the wee hours of the morning -- or accept the fact that I cannot post here every single day, much as I had hoped to do.

I will do my best to stay as current as possible! I hope you'll continue to check in to see the progress (or subscribe via an RSS reader, so, when the blog is updated, you'll know about it).


Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 11: John the Baptizer, Warnings, and an Invitation to Rest

11:1 It happened that when Jesus had finished directing his twelve disciples, he departed from there to teach and preach in their cities. 11:2 Now when John heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 11:3 and said to him, “Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?” 11:4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 11:5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 11:6 Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in me.”

11:7 As these went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in king’s houses. 11:9 But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. 11:10 For this is he, of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11:11 Most certainly I tell you, among those who are born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptizer; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. 11:12 From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 11:14 If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come. 11:15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
11:16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their companions 11:17 and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance. We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament.’ 11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

11:20 Then he began to denounce the cities in which most of his mighty works had been done, because they didn’t repent. 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 11:23 You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until this day. 11:24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.”

11:25 At that time, Jesus answered, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants. 11:26 Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight. 11:27 All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him.

11:28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Chapter Summary:

  • Questioned by John the Baptizer

  • Our Lord Speaks About John the Baptizer

  • What Shall I Say About This Generation?

  • Woe to You!

  • A Prayer of Thanksgiving

  • Come Unto Me

Questioned by John the Baptizer

St. Matthew does not tell us the story of the arrest and imprisonment of St. John the Baptizer. (We must wait until we get to chapter 14 – although there’s nothing to prevent you from skipping ahead, if you want to do so!) Having sent the twelve on their mission, our Lord Himself returns to doing what He had initially done, which now His disciples have joined Him in doing: preaching the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Word of this reaches St. John the Baptizer in his prison cell; and so he sends two of his disciples to ask, “Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?” Even St. John, the last of the Old Testament prophets, who had preached the coming of the Messiah, and had recognized Him when He came to the Jordan River to be baptized – even this man of God must confront the doubts that arose in him. He asks for proof; and the answer given to him by our Lord also comes from prophetic roots: the miracles of healing, the raising of the dead, and the preaching the good news to the poor are all signs of the Messiah, given by God centuries before to prophets such as Isaiah. Our Lord concludes, “Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in me.” Jesus recognizes and acknowledges John’s doubt, and reassures him, even as He speaks to us today.

Our Lord Speaks About John the Baptizer

As John’s followers depart, Jesus addresses the multitude who followed Him, as perhaps many there had also followed John before his arrest. He asks them, “What did you go out into the desert to see?” He declares that John is a prophet, even the greatest of prophets – in itself, a rebuke to those who went out of curiosity, but did not respond to John’s call to repent and be cleansed by baptism. Quoting the prophet Malachi, Jesus (in verse 10) identifies St. John as the one spoken of by the prophet several hundred years before: The messenger sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. He praises John as the greatest of any born of a woman; but then makes him less than the lowest of those who enter the kingdom of heaven. For John was of the old covenant; those who will receive our Lord by faith, and be baptized into His life, who are of the family and the household of Christ, who are of one blood with Him by the blood He shed on our behalf, are closer to Christ than was St. John. (Presumably, as St. John also comes into the kingdom by faith, he is restored to his place of honor – but that was yet to come.) Then John is identified as Elijah, the prophet who was taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot, and who was expected to return when the Messiah had come.

Then (in v. 12) our Lord says something that isn’t immediately obvious in what it says. That is, the words, on the surface, suggest something contrary to what we would expect to hear from the “Prince of peace,” one of the prophetic names given to our Lord before His birth. “From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. “ Most of us, probably, will visualize, upon hearing this, an invading army; or a SWAT team entering a building; or a burglar smashing a door or a window to gain entry. But here is what the fathers tell us about this “violence”: it is the violence of the ascetic life, the doing of battle against our passions, the violent breaking of the holds by which the enemy of our salvation attempts to keep us from rising to the kingdom. We struggle against our flesh, and against the powers of this world, in order to bring the life of Christ given to us in our baptism into reality within ourselves. It is by this “violence” that we “take” the kingdom of heaven.

What Shall I Say About This Generation?

It is my opinion that many of the exchanges which our Lord Jesus has with some of the people that appear to be harsh are, in fact, expressions of His inexpressibly great love of us. I think that, at times, He speaks in such a way as to jar those who hear Him, to shake them from their complacency and self-assuredness, so that they can then hear the good news of the coming of the kingdom, and repent and confess and be about the amendment of their lives. So, when He compares them to children, it is not an insult; and when He pushes them, it is so that they might begin their journey from this world to the kingdom that is coming, which He has brought for us all. In particular, He sets Himself into the story, together with St. John the Baptizer, who, He says, came neither eating nor drinking (apart from locusts, wild honey, and water), and was accused of being possessed by a demon. The same people say of Jesus that He was a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Neither John nor Jesus were “good enough” for these people, who think they are better, more worthy, than others, because they are “righteous.” But they are mistaken; and “wisdom is justified by her children.” Whose lives better reveal the life of the kingdom? Those who repented? Or those who thought they were the righteous ones?

Woe to You!

Moving from “this generation,” our Lord speaks as a prophet to some of the cities to which He had traveled, and where He had proclaimed the kingdom, and worked miracles, and yet was not accepted by the very people to whom the promise of the Messiah had been made. Chorazin was near the Sea of Galilee, not far from Capernaum. Bethsaida was probably on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was the village where Jesus lived. All three are at risk of a future worse than that which fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah, because they did not believe. Tyre and Sidon were cities on the coastline, established by the Phoenicians, and so were not part of the Holy Land that God had given to Abraham and his descendents – yet our Lord says that, if the pagan peoples living in those cities had seen what the people of the covenant had seen, they would have been quick to repent; something the people of God failed to do.

A 6th century mosaic of :en:Jesus at Church Sa...Image via Wikipedia

Come Unto Me

Here again we come upon an apparent contradiction. Our Lord invites everyone who is troubled to come to Him, and He will refresh them, and give them rest. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.” Yet not too long before, we heard that the way was narrow, and the number to pass through the gate was small; and that we could not love anyone or anything more than the Lord, and that we must carry our cross and follow Him. So how could His yoke be easy, and His burden light?

The fathers approach this in number of ways. One is very practical, coming from the experience of farmers. A young animal, yoked for the first time, may respond with protest against this restraint laid upon it, and at the load it is then required to pull. But when an older, and experienced animal is paired in the yoke with the inexperienced younger animal, the older exerts a calming influence, and resists the attempts to throw off the yoke; and by this, the animal new to the yoke is trained, and becomes experienced and reliable. As it is for the animals, so it is for us, if we will allow ourselves to be yoked in tandem with Christ, and go with Him, and learn from Him. The fathers also tell us that there is no burden so great, so heavy, as the knowledge of our sins; and how light is the feeling when we have confessed, and our sins are forgiven! Righteousness and virtue, while difficult to acquire – it takes the way of the Cross – are of no burden at all, once we have acquired them. Finally, the fathers remind us that this life is transitory, brief, in comparison with eternity; so that even if bearing the Cross is a great burden now, it will not always be so; and we will rejoice when we have come into the kingdom of heaven, and give no thought to the moment when things seemed insurmountable, and unbearable.

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Day 10: The Mission of the Twelve

10:1 He called to himself his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness. 10:2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. The first, Simon, who is called Peter; Andrew, his brother; James the son of Zebedee; John, his brother; 10:3 Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 10:4 Simon the Canaanite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

10:5 Jesus sent these twelve out, and commanded them, saying, “Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. 10:6 Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 10:7 As you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ 10:8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give. 10:9 Don’t take any gold, nor silver, nor brass in your money belts. 10:10 Take no bag for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: for the laborer is worthy of his food. 10:11 Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy; and stay there until you go on. 10:12 As you enter into the household, greet it. 10:13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you. 10:14 Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust from your feet. 10:15 Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.

10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 10:17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. 10:18 Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. 10:19 But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. 10:20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 10:21 “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. 10:22 You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved. 10:23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come. 10:24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. 10:25 It is enough for the disciple that he be like his teacher, and the servant like his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household! 10:26 Therefore don’t be afraid of them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed; and hidden that will not be known. 10:27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in the ear, proclaim on the housetops. 10:28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. 10:29 “Aren’t two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father’s will, 10:30 but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 10:31 Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows. 10:32 Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. 10:33 But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.

10:34 “Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. 10:35 For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 10:36 A man’s foes will be those of his own household. 10:37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. 10:38 He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me. 10:39 He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. 10:40 He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. 10:41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. 10:42 Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you he will in no way lose his reward.”

Chapter Summary:

  • The Calling of the Twelve

  • The Mission of the Twelve

  • Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

  • Take Up Your Cross

There are any number of ways the verses in this chapter might be grouped. I have tried to organize them in a way that makes sense; but perhaps some of the blocks should be broken down a bit more.

The Calling of the Twelve

Most of these names are familiar to us. One that may not be is “Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus.” Not every English translation of this chapter contains that information; instead, we are given the name, Thaddaeus. As far as I know, there are no lists of “major” and “minor” apostles, as there are for the prophetic books in the Old Testament; but beyond being named in the lists of the twelve in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear nothing more about some of them. This particular phrase, giving the name “Lebbaeus,” points out something that will occur again in this chapter, and, indeed, throughout the Gospels: the manuscripts from which the Bibles are translated. There are some variations between these source texts; some, as we have noted, contain this phrase, while others do not. Another instance: Simon the Canaanite is given the title, Simon the Cananaean. The meaning is the same; and, indeed, while these variations do occur, there are, to my knowledge, none that are substantive – none that, if included, change the message the Gospels are meant to convey.

The Mission of the Twelve

Having been selected by our Lord to be a part of His “inner circle,” if you will, they are given a mission, and the power and the authority to accomplish it. What are they to do? Preach the coming of the kingdom of heaven; and to heal the sick and cast out demons. In verse 8, we encounter another textual variation. Some source texts read as it is given above; but some add, “raise the dead” as well to what the twelve are empowered to do.

They are also given other instructions. They are sent to the Jews, not to the Gentiles, nor to the Samaritans. They are to take no reward for what they do; and they are not to worry about any provisions for their journey: they are not to take any food, clothing, or baggage; and they are not to take anything of value that might be used by them to pay for food or lodging, or any another expense. They are to rely upon what people in the villages they visit will provide for them – ultimately, to trust that God will provide all their needs. When they come to a village, they are to stay with someone who was worthy. (I must admit to being intrigued by the concept of being “worthy.” St. John Chrysostom gives no more guidance on that than does the text itself. Does anyone have any ideas to offer on what this might mean?)

They were to give their greeting to the household when they entered, and, if the house was worthy, to allow their peace to remain; otherwise, their peace was to return to them when they left. (Remember that “house” means more than the building: it also means “family.”) As with “worthy,” this is intriguing: what is this “peace?” Fortunately, St. John Chrysostom does discuss this point. He says that the instructions our Lord is giving to those being sent out to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, rather than being greeted as teachers, are to greet others first – an act of humility on the part of the disciples. So they are not so much giving a greeting when they enter, but a blessing; which, if the house is worthy, will find the blessing will, indeed be given to them. If the house is not worthy, the first punishment it suffers is that it will lose the peace that would be found by the members of the household as a result of having the disciples stay with them and teaching them. They would also be at risk of being sentenced to destruction, as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. This, of which we are told in the 19th chapter of the book of Genesis, was the result of the sinfulness of these cities, which were destroyed when fire and brimstone – burning sulfur – fell upon both cities, completely destroying them.

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

The Lord tells the twelve that they are being sent out as sheep among wolves. As such, He advises them that they must be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. (In some versions, such as the King James, the phrase is, “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.”) What then, is the wisdom or shrewdness of the serpent? What is the innocence or harmlessness of the dove?

St. John Chrysostom (where would we be without his insights?) actually begins to decipher this for us by going back to the first phrase, of the sheep in the midst of wolves. As were the disciples being sent, so, too, are we to be sheep – who are generally gentle creatures not given to attack – rather than wolves, who attack and kill with their teeth. This is connected to the harmlessness of the dove. He further explains that, as the serpent will not vigorously defend its tail, but even allow it to be severed from the body so as to preserve its head – the tail will grow back – so are we to be willing to give up everything except our faith: houses, property, goods, even our limbs or our lives may all be lost to us, but if we preserve our faith, we shall not lose our reward in heaven; only those things on earth which are ultimately transitory, shadows. So to be as wise as a serpent means to preserve our faith; while to be as innocent as a dove is to cause no harm to any other person.

A warning is then given to the disciples: Be on guard. There will be acts of betrayal, even by those who are close to us, even members of our own families. The faithful may be arrested, questioned, imprisoned, tortured, even killed. We are not to worry about these things, not even what answer we shall give when questioned: the Spirit of the Lord will instruct us in what we are to say. We will be hated; but if we stand firm to the end, we shall be saved – perhaps in this world, but certainly in the world to come. (See chapters 2 and 3 of the book of the revelation to St. John for the promises given to those who endure until the end.)

One other little side trip before leaving this section. Our Lord says, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household!” Remember that, when the people of God who had made the exodus from Egypt came to the Promised Land, it was necessary for them to drive out the inhabitants of the land, who worshipped idols. One such idol was Ba’al. This word, Semitic in origin (as is Hebrew), may be applied to either a divine being or a human being; it means “master” or “lord.” In some instances, it is a “stand-in” for the deity Hadad, the Lord of heaven and the god of rain, thunder, and agriculture. (Among the Hebrews, the name of God was too sacred to be spoken; and so reference to God used the “stand-in” term, “Adonai” – “Lord” – in place of “YHWH.”) In the Bible, it does not usually carry that meaning, but instead is a general reference to the diversity of “gods” worshipped by the Canaanites. The name, “Baal-Zebul” would mean “Prince Baal” or “Baal the exalted one.” In the Bible, the term is corrupted – probably intentionally – to “Beelzebub” or “Beelzebul”: “Lord of the flies.” The term came to be applied to Satan. If you recall, in chapter 9, the Pharisees said of our Lord that He cast out demons by the prince of demons. They were, in effect, calling Him, “Beel-zebub.”

Take Up Your Cross

Having set before His disciples the possible challenges and dangers they may encounter as they go about their mission, He reminds them of their importance, of the great love that God has for all mankind, made in His image and called to live in His loving presence. He tells us not to fear those whose power to destroy extends no further than being able to take away our life in this world. We should only fear the One who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell. Of course, if we live as we have been instructed by Him, we have no reason to fear: for if we acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives in word and in deed, He will, at the great and terrible Day of Judgment, acknowledge us in heaven. Those who do not risk being disowned by our Lord on that Day. We are, of course, called to love our parents; we are called to love our brothers and sisters; we are called to love our children – but we must not let this love be more important than our love for the Lord; nor let this love pull us away from Him. This is part of the Cross we are called to carry: to love the Lord with all of our being, and to love those who are made in His image and after His likeness – even those who will hate us, and act on that hate, because of our love for, and loyalty to, Jesus Christ the Son of God, our Lord.

(The quotations from Scripture found in the above come from the World English Bible.)

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 9: Signs of the Kingdom

9:1 He entered into a boat, and crossed over, and came into his own city. 9:2 Behold, they brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a bed. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, “Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven you.” 9:3 Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man blasphemes.” 9:4 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 9:5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven;’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk?’ 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” (then he said to the paralytic), “Get up, and take up your mat, and go up to your house.”
9:7 He arose and departed to his house. 9:8 But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

9:9 As Jesus passed by from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax collection office. He said to him, “Follow me.” He got up and followed him.

9:10 It happened as he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. 9:11 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 9:12 When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. 9:13 But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

9:14 Then John’s disciples came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don’t fast?” 9:15 Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. 9:16 No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch would tear away from the garment, and a worse hole is made. 9:17 Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins, or else the skins would burst, and the wine be spilled, and the skins ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

9:18 While he told these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 9:19 Jesus got up and followed him, as did his disciples. 9:20 Behold, a woman who had an issue of blood for twelve years came behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; 9:21 for she said within herself, “If I just touch his garment, I will be made well.” 9:22 But Jesus, turning around and seeing her, said, “Daughter, cheer up! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. 9:23 When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd in noisy disorder, 9:24 he said to them, “Make room, because the girl isn’t dead, but sleeping.” They were ridiculing him. 9:25 But when the crowd was put out, he entered in, took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 9:26 The report of this went out into all that land.

9:27 As Jesus passed by from there, two blind men followed him, calling out and saying, “Have mercy on us, son of David!” 9:28 When he had come into the house, the blind men came to him. Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They told him, “Yes, Lord.” 9:29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 9:30 Their eyes were opened. Jesus strictly commanded them, saying, “See that no one knows about this.” 9:31 But they went out and spread abroad his fame in all that land.

9:32 As they went out, behold, a mute man who was demon possessed was brought to him. 9:33 When the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke. The multitudes marveled, saying, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel!” 9:34 But the Pharisees said, “By the prince of the demons, he casts out demons.”

9:35 Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people. 9:36 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 9:38 Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.”

Here’s my summary of this chapter:

  • Healing a Paralytic

  • The Calling of Matthew

  • Tax Collectors and Sinners

  • Fasting and the Bridegroom

  • Healing the Ruler’s Daughter and the Woman with an Issue of Blood

  • Two Blind Men are Healed

  • Casting Out a Demon

  • The Lord of the Harvest

In a way, if the chapter as a whole were to be given a title, it might be, “Signs of the Kingdom, and the Opposition of the Jews.” Not all Jews, mind you; but certainly the scribes (the teachers of the Law) and the Pharisees, whose lives focused upon keeping the Law to the nth degree were skeptical about the miracles and contemptuous to our Lord. Of the eight different sections of this chapter, four of them include encounters with these opponents.

Healing a Paralytic

Arriving in Nazareth, our Lord is met by a paralyzed man and his friends, who have carried him to be healed by Jesus. Here, our Lord heals with a word: “Your sins are forgiven.” Now, to this time in the story, after His baptism and the forty days in the desert, our Lord has healed a number of people. Some reports lack details, and simply say that He healed the sick; or that many were healed. (This is in chapter 4.) In chapter 8, He heals a leper with a touch and the words, “Be made clean.” He heals the servant of the centurion from afar by the word of His command. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law with a touch, and others are healed, but we are not told how. He casts out demons by His word. What is particularly worth noting is that here, unlike the previous healings where some details are given, He does not say, “Be healed”; He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” This provokes the scribes, who said among themselves, “This man is a blasphemer”; that is, someone who speaks or acts impiously, who slanders God.

St. Matthew tells us that our Lord knew their thoughts, even if He did not hear them speak. He confronts them with the question, “Which is easier? To say, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’; or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed, and walk?’” The obvious answer – from a human point of view – would be to say that one’s sins are forgiven; for how can this be known in this life? Our Lord, then, uses the more difficult task, and heals the paralyzed man with His command to rise and walk, to demonstrate that He also has the power to forgive sins. The conclusion that those present at the time of this miraculous healing, and those present when St. Matthew was telling the story, and us – if we will make the effort to understand – were meant to know that, as only God can forgive sins, Jesus was showing them that the kingdom of heaven had, indeed, drawn near to them – very near!

The Calling of Matthew

Having healed the paralyzed man, our Lord finds a tax collector named Matthew. He says to him, “Follow me.” Amazingly, Matthew does exactly as he was told to do, leaves his booth, and becomes a follower of Jesus.

None of us like to pay taxes. We may do so because we don’t want to face the consequences that may befall us if we do not pay; we may do so from a sense of duty; we may even do so giving thanks for the many opportunities we have in this land. But the collection of taxes today is almost nothing at all like it was in the time of the Gospels. Ever wonder why the tax collectors were so despised? It’s because they were contractors who, in exchange for guaranteeing the ruler a certain amount of revenue, they were allowed to collect whatever they could from whomever they could. Tax collectors almost invariably got rich, because they were accountable to no one – as long as they didn’t get too greedy! For Matthew to have walked away from such a position is mind-boggling, even in today’s world. Give up a six or seven figure income to follow a wandering teacher? Had Matthew gone crazy?

Tax Collectors and Sinners

Was the dinner mentioned here served in Matthew’s house? Wherever it was served, the company was not what common opinion thought was appropriate for a “man of God,” as Jesus clearly was – or, at least, sought to portray Himself to be. As such the Pharisees come to the disciples and ask why their “Teacher” eats with tax collectors and sinners. The Lord responds by the analogy of sickness and sin: as those who are ill have need of a physician, while those who are healthy do not, so, too, do sinners need someone who can heal their spiritual illnesses – which, the Fathers tell us, frequently manifest themselves in our bodies as well as our souls – while those who have not sinned have no such need. Then, to open their eyes to their own state of sin, our Lord quotes the prophet Hosea to show the Pharisees that, in their own assumed state of self-righteousness, they are no better than the tax collectors and sinners with whom the Lord is dining: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”

The story of the prophet Hosea is a fascinating study, and if you’ve never read this book of the Old Testament, it will be worth your time to do so. Early on, God directs Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, and to accept as his own her children; all of this as a sign to the people of Israel that they have forsaken God, as a form of adultery in the relationship between God and His people. (Interesting: Here again, the theme of a “man of God” – the prophet – associating intimately with a sinner.) The message from God to His people through the prophet is that they shall be punished for their lack of fidelity – punished, but not destroyed. Gomer is driven out by her children, at Hosea’s direction; but God has ordered Hosea to continue to love her, and she is brought back and, after a time of isolation, is restored to her husband and family. At one point, God laments over His people, and asks, “What shall I do with you?” Then He says, “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (6:6) The Hebrew word hesed that is translated as “mercy” can refer to proper conduct directed toward others, loyalty to God, or both; and can also be translated as, “love.” What is presented, then, is the contrast between the interior action and the exterior; where the offering and the burnt offering are external actions, made in the Temple, while mercy, loyalty and love all arise from the heart. The exterior actions can be counterfeit; the interior, much less so, if at all. Worship offered to God without being faithful to the will of God does us no good; it may even do us harm. The Pharisees have judged Jesus by His outward actions, and have shown by this their lack of love and mercy – and are as much in need of the forgiveness of their sins as are the tax collectors and the other sinners. But where the group with whom our Lord is dining recognize their sin, and so their need, the Pharisees, who think they do not sin because they outwardly keep the Law, do not recognize their need to repent, and confess, so that their sins may also be forgiven.

Fasting and The Bridegroom

Although this is not a “hostile” encounter, as experienced with the scribes and the Pharisees, it is still a question about why the Lord and His disciples appear to live in a way that, if not outside the Law, then is certainly pushing the boundaries of the Law. John’s disciples come and ask, “Why do we fast, and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?” The answer is straightforward: when it is time to celebrate, you do not fast. The presence of the Lord with His disciples – and it is important here to remember that we, as we follow Him, are His disciples – is something to celebrate. At the proper time, His disciples will fast. But then the Lord teaches through an interesting analogy: using cloth and wine and wineskins to illustrate His point.

St. John Chrysostom points out that the center of the analogy is the contrast between what is old and what is new; and how mixing the two very likely results in the destruction of both. A new piece of cloth, not yet shrunk, if cut to size and used to repair an old garment, will, when it shrinks, make the damage worse than what initially required the sewing in of a piece of cloth. Similarly, new wine is poured into new wineskins, which have not been stretched, and so will have the capacity to stretch as the wine ferments. An old wineskin, having been stretched, will burst, as its elasticity is less than that of a new wineskin. Here, I think, is the point: The disciples, indeed, everyone, are under the Law, under the covenants with Abraham and Moses; but our Lord has come to bring about a new covenant; and so before it can be given to the disciples, and to all others who follow Christ, they must first be made new, and then, given the “new wine” of the life of our Lord and the Holy Spirit in our “new wineskin” being – the nature that had fallen because of Adam and which Christ would renew by His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

The Ruler’s Daughter and the Woman with an Issue of Blood

This request for healing turns into something more. A man of some importance comes to Jesus and asks Him to heal His daughter. Jesus agrees to accompany the man, who has phrased his request by asking Jesus to lay His hand on her to heal her. (Compare this with the centurion in chapter 8.) As they travel, word comes to them that the girl has died; and, as they enter the residence, the mourners have already started to gather. Our Lord says that the girl is not dead, but only sleeping – which causes those gathered there to laugh in derision. Our Lord takes the girl by the hand and raises her up, restored to life.

In the middle of this account, another story appears – that of a woman who has suffered from an issue of blood for twelve years. Her specific condition is unknown to us; but we can imagine the circumstances that her condition caused for her. Blood was significant; blood was the carrier of life, as we are told in the 17th chapter of the book of Leviticus:
17:10 “‘Any man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who live as foreigners among them, who eats any kind of blood, I will set my face against that soul who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life. 17:12 Therefore I have said to the children of Israel, “No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who lives as a foreigner among you eat blood.”

Remember that it was the blood of the lambs slain for the first Passover in Egypt that was used to mark the lintel and door frames – a form of the sign of the Cross – to identify the homes of the people of God when death, the tenth and final plague on Egypt, came into the land. No one died where the doorway was marked with blood; while in those homes not marked, the first-born male in each household died.

In Leviticus we find, then, the significance for the woman who has come in the midst of the story about the healing of the ruler’s daughter:
15:19 “‘If a woman has a discharge, and her discharge in her flesh is blood, she shall be in her impurity seven days: and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 15:20 “‘Everything that she lies on in her impurity shall be unclean. Everything also that she sits on shall be unclean. 15:21 Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. 15:22 Whoever touches anything that she sits on shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening. 15:23 If it is on the bed, or on anything whereon she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until the evening. 15:24 “‘If any man lies with her, and her monthly flow is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed whereon he lies shall be unclean. 15:25 “‘If a woman has a discharge of her blood many days not in the time of her period, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her period; all the days of the discharge of her uncleanness shall be as in the days of her period: she is unclean. 15:26 Every bed whereon she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her period: and everything whereon she sits shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her period. 15:27 Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening.”

So, the issue of blood had rendered this woman unclean, and therefore, untouchable, for twelve years. She was undoubtedly shunned by many, because simply brushing against her garments while passing in the street meant that you would be unclean for seven days. Her coming to touch the hem of our Lord’s cloak, then, would, under the Law, meant that Jesus would also be unclean. But, as He did not withhold His touch from the leper, here He does not object to her having come to Him with the faith that she would be healed; and He tells her, “Your faith has made you well.”

Casting Out a Demon

A man who could not speak because he was possessed of a demon came to our Lord, Who drove out the demon, making it possible for the man to speak. The people remarked that such a thing had never been seen in Israel. But once again, the Pharisees see evil where the crowd saw something wonderful, and said that the only reason why the demon-possessed man had been restored was because the Lord invoked the prince of demons to do so – saying, in effect, that our Lord was doing the work of the enemy of our salvation, rather than the work of God.

The Lord of the Harvest

The Lord sees the crowds who are coming to Him, who will need instruction and guidance, and, in His love for all, He is moved to compassion for them. He speaks to His disciples in an analogy to farming, speaking of how the harvest is ready, but that there are not enough laborers for the task. He urges His disciples – and again, we who are called by His name are meant to be His disciples – to pray, asking that the “Lord of the harvest” will send workers to bring the harvest into His house. We should offer that prayer; and we should be willing to go and do that work. For some, this will mean offering themselves for ordination; but for most, it means that we must labor to acquire the Holy Spirit, to struggle against our passions, to repent and confess, to fast and to give, to love others more than we love ourselves, and with patience and humility show the life of Christ in our own. If we will do these things, we may be of service to others by bringing them closer to our Lord; and this is the harvest, the harvest of souls.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 8: Healings, Disciples, Storms and Demons

8:1 When he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 8:2 Behold, a leper came to him and worshiped him, saying, “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.” 8:3 Jesus stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 8:4 Jesus said to him, “See that you tell nobody, but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

8:5 When he came into Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking him, 8:6 and saying, “Lord, my servant lies in the house paralyzed, grievously tormented.” 8:7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8:8 The centurion answered, “Lord, I’m not worthy for you to come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8:9 For I am also a man under authority, having under myself soldiers. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and tell another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and tell my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 8:10 When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, “Most certainly I tell you, I haven’t found so great a faith, not even in Israel. 8:11 I tell you that many will come from the east and the west, and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, 8:12 but the children of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 8:13 Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” His servant was healed in that hour.

8:14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. 8:15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her. She got up and served him. 8:16 When evening came, they brought to him many possessed with demons. He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick; 8:17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He took our infirmities, and bore our diseases.” 8:18 Now when Jesus saw great multitudes around him, he gave the order to depart to the other side.

8:19 A scribe came, and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 8:20 Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 8:21 Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” 8:22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

8:23 When he got into a boat, his disciples followed him. 8:24 Behold, a violent storm came up on the sea, so much that the boat was covered with the waves, but he was asleep. 8:25 They came to him, and woke him up, saying, “Save us, Lord! We are dying!” 8:26 He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm. 8:27 The men marveled, saying, “What kind of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

8:28 When he came to the other side, into the country of the Gergesenes, two people possessed by demons met him there, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that nobody could pass that way. 8:29 Behold, they cried out, saying, “What do we have to do with you, Jesus, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 8:30 Now there was a herd of many pigs feeding far away from them. 8:31 The demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of pigs.” 8:32 He said to them, “Go!” They came out, and went into the herd of pigs: and behold, the whole herd of pigs rushed down the cliff into the sea, and died in the water. 8:33 Those who fed them fled, and went away into the city, and told everything, including what happened to those who were possessed with demons. 8:34 Behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus. When they saw him, they begged that he would depart from their borders.

I would break down this chapter in the following way:

  • A Leper is Healed

  • The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant

  • Healing the Sick

  • The Cost of Discipleship

  • The Wind and the Sea Obey

  • Casting Out Demons: The Gadarene Swine

A Leper is Healed

Perhaps the first thing here that is remarkable is our Lord’s response to the leper’s request to be healed. Not only does Jesus desire to heal this man; He touches him. Now, although the term used in the biblical texts that is translated as “leprosy” should, perhaps, be translated, “an infectious disease of the skin” – which category would include Hansen’s bacillus (leprosy) – but also much more. The key point here is that the condition, whatever the cause, is contagious. The Law provided that persons having such a condition be examined by a priest, and then isolated outside the settlement for a period of seven days, and was considered to be ceremonially unclean, and so barred from entering the Temple. After the seven days of isolation, the person was again examined, and pronounced to be either “clean” or “unclean.” If the person was clean, there were sacrifices as offerings of thanksgiving specified in the Law; while if they remained unclean, they went back into quarantine. Anyone who touched anything that was unclean became themselves ceremonially unclean, and had to wait the seven days, and then be pronounced clean, and wash themselves and their clothing, and bring the sacrifices to the priest for the offering. Thus, touching the leper was a serious action, one with strong implications.

I had been a priest in the Episcopal Church for less than a year when I was sent by the rector of the parish in which I served to visit a man in the hospital. He was, I learned, dying from the onset of the complications that accompany the AIDS virus. During my summer of clinical pastoral education in seminary, I was assigned to the cancer ward of the hospital, which is also where the patients with the most serious cases of AIDS were treated. The medical staff would almost always wear a surgical mask and gloves – if not the full sterile suit – when visiting these patients, and so I did the same; but we were told later that this wasn’t necessary for us when making pastoral calls. As such, on this day, I entered the hospital room as if the man only had a bad cold: no goggles, no gloves, no mask. We spoke for a while, and prayed; and then his “partner” came into the room and said that the patient needed to be turned, and asked if I would help. I did so; and as we shifted the patient, I felt that he had been sweating – and that his partner was wearing surgical gloves. As soon as I left the room, I found a place to wash my hands. He died a day or so after that visit; and I spent more than a few years where, every time I started getting sick, I wondered about that day, and whether I might have been exposed to the virus.. As such, it helps me to see our Lord reach out in love and touch this “untouchable” leper as part of the way the man was healed. (It’s 18 or 19 years later; I don’t worry about it as much any more…)

The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant

Let me hit you here with a $10 word from seminary: pericope. A pericope is a selection or an extract from a book. This particular pericope, verses 5 through 13, could also be called, “The Centurion’s Faith.” I wrote a long paper on this topic in seminary, so I’m going to do my best to be brief here!

We have already seen our Lord heal with a touch, and heal by the power of His word. These events took place among the people of God – that is, the Jews. Now a man who is not a part of that community approaches our Lord to ask for healing; not for himself, but for his servant, whose illness is such that he cannot be brought to the Lord. Jesus says, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion tells Him that it is not necessary; that it will be enough for the Lord to give the command to have the end accomplished – something the centurion knows from practical, personal experience. In response, our Lord praises the faith of the centurion, and points out how it has come from someone who is not an heir of the kingdom, as those who were truly members of the covenant with Abraham could rightly claim. But their unbelief in the One for whom they said they had been waiting is made all the more pronounced by the centurion’s faith; and his servant was healed at that very hour.

Casting Out Demons: The Gadarene Swine

This pericope is well known to those who attend church! There are a few points worth mentioning, I think, which have to do with what we might call the difference between “fact” and “truth.” (I owe what understanding I have of this to the teaching of Fr. Francis Martin, with whom, while in seminary, I took more courses in the New Testament than from the faculty of my own seminary. I will not do his teachings justice here.)

When presented with a report in the news media, we generally have the tendency to trust the report, unless something has happened that causes us to do otherwise. For example: yesterday, there was a horrific crash of two trains carrying commuters on the Washington, DC, Metro system. In the initial reports, two people were said to have been killed. Later, that number was increased to six people. Now, we recognize that this type of change in reporting takes place as the confusion surrounding the immediate event dissipates, and a slower, more careful investigation takes place. But what it, in a year’s time, without there having been any other reporting, that number of six people who were killed suddenly jumps to ten people? The change causes us to wonder, where previously we had accepted the story as being true that six people had died, whether or not the story is true; or, which story is true? When the facts do not agree, we wonder about the truth of the story. If something is true, the facts should be in agreement – shouldn’t they? This becomes an issue in this story: Is it “Gadarene” or “Gergesene?” Was there only one demon-possessed man, or were there two? In the Gospel accounts of St. Mark and St. Luke, there is only one; St. Matthew reports there were two. So, which story is true? Is the story true?

We need to be careful in asking contemporary questions of a text written from a different culture in a different time. We need to be careful about the expectations we have, and the way we analyze the text. To hear of a different number of men afflicted by the demons causes us to question the account; but more importantly, it causes us to miss the point. Eh? What’s that, you say? What is the point? The point is that someone with the power to command the demons has come into our midst. Not only does He have power over them; He has the authority to compel them to obey; and He terrifies them. “Behold, they cried out, saying, ‘What do we have to do with you, Jesus, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’” They then begged Him to allow them to enter into the swine, which they then destroyed by causing them to rush into the sea.

Compare also the response of the villagers whose herd of swine – and what are Jews doing keeping swine? The pig was an unclean animal under the Law of Moses, and so the people of God could not eat them. Now, as the power of the kingdom of heaven has been demonstrated before them by the healing of those who had been possessed, and by the destruction of their animals, what do they do? Do they respond with the faith that the centurion displayed? No. Instead, they begged Him to go away and leave them alone!

Which begs the question for each one of us: Do you resemble the centurion? Or do you resemble the villagers?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 7: Matthew 7

7:1 “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. 7:2 For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you. 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? 7:4 Or how will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye;’ and behold, the beam is in your own eye? 7:5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.

7:6 “Don’t give that which is holy to the dogs, neither throw your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

7:7 “Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you. 7:8 For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds. To him who knocks it will be opened. 7:9 Or who is there among you, who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 7:10 Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent? 7:11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 7:12 Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

7:13 “Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. 7:14 How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it.

7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. 7:16 By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 7:17 Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. 7:18 A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. 7:19 Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. 7:20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 7:22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ 7:23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’

7:24 “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. 7:25 The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. 7:26 Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. 7:27 The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell — and great was its fall.”

7:28 It happened, when Jesus had finished saying these things, that the multitudes were astonished at his teaching, 7:29 for he taught them with authority, and not like the scribes.
Chapter 7 is the third of three chapters in which the Sermon on the Mount is presented. Beginning with the Beatitudes, through the course of His teaching, our Lord is telling those who would follow Him about the life of holiness, and how we may do our part in the transformation of our being from the state of fallen human nature to recovering what was lost when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, including their theosis: our deification, salvation from our fallen state by participation in the life of God, given to us when we receive the life of our Lord Jesus Christ at the time of our baptism. What is established in us is the potential for the expression of this new life in our own thoughts and words and deeds and feelings. To actually realize this potential takes work: ascetic labors along the pathways shown to us throughout the Sermon on the Mount.

We can sum up today’s instructions in this way:

  1. Do Not Judge Others

  2. Holiness

  3. Ask, Seek, Knock

  4. The Golden Rule

  5. The Narrow Gate

  6. Warnings

  7. Building Upon Rock

The chapter closes with a description of the impact of our Lord’s teachings upon those who had gathered to hear Him. They were, we are told, astonished, for He taught as “one with authority,” and not in the way that the scribes taught the Scriptures. On this point, St. John Chrysostom has this to say: “He said what He said, not with reference to another, to Moses or the prophets, but indicating that He Himself had the power of deciding. When setting forth His laws, He would say, ‘You have heard that is was said’; but He kept adding, ‘But I say to you…’” The multitude had gathered to hear Him because of the miracles of healing He had performed; and, after having taught on the mountainside, He went forth again, showing His power – the power of His authority to speak and so interpret the Law of Moses – by working miracles.

Do Not Judge Others

The key to understanding our Lord’s instruction not to judge is not to turn a blind eye to sin, or be silent; for to do so may be to allow another to come to destruction, either in this world, or in the next. Here is the key: You shall be judged according to the same standard by which you judged others. If we are merciful to others, we have the hope of mercy for ourselves; while if we apply the law strictly, so, too, shall the Law be applied to us. St. John Chrysostom says, “…we should not find fault with others severely, but rather caution them, and remind them of their duty. We should not speak abusively to them; we should, rather, advise them as friends. We should not attack them from our pride, but correct them tenderly… We do not correct others as an enemy, or as an opponent assessing a penalty, but as a physician providing medicine.”

Part of the danger of judging is the damage it does to our own hearts, and to our own souls. If we happen to, as St. John puts it, put on “a mask of benevolence,” pretending to care for another person, but work wickedness by finding someone else guilty of the same sins that we commit, we are, as our Lord says, hypocrites. Before we try to help someone else – and certainly before we judge someone else – we must first deal with our own sins. But this is not “natural” to us in our fallen state; it is a quality that we must labor to acquire, as we also labor to set aside our own sins, including that of being judgmental.


St. John Chrysostom tells us that the dogs mentioned here are those who do not believe; while the swine are believers who lead a filthy and shameful way of life. Offering them the pearls of the holy Mysteries has no good outcome. They will despise them – that is, trample them under their feet; and will turn on us to pour contempt on our faith.

The Narrow Gate

Few, we are told, will enter by this narrow gate, while the road to destruction carries many people. The narrow gate consists of trials: those undertaken voluntarily, such as fasting; and those that are involuntary, such as persecution or imprisonment. Another unknown church father equates the narrow gate and the burden we must carry as we go along the way as the commandments. These, he says, are light and good for those who sincerely desire eternal life and blessings; but are heavy and tedious for those who, rather than striving for the life to come, are more interested in what this life and this world have to offer. This is why few are saved; and he adds, “See to it that you are one of the few.”

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 6: The Sermon on the Mount, Part 2

6:1 “Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.6:2 Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6:3 But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, 6:4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 6:5 “When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. 6:6 But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 6:7 In praying, don’t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. 6:8 Therefore don’t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him. 6:9 Pray like this: ‘Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. 6:10 Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. 6:11 Give us today our daily bread. 6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. 6:14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 6:15 But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 6:16 “Moreover when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6:17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; 6:18 so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 6:19 “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; 6:20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; 6:21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 6:22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. 6:23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon. 6:25 Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 6:26 See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they? 6:27 “Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? 6:28 Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, 6:29 yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. 6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith? 6:31 “Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ 6:32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 6:33 But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. 6:34 Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day’s own evil is sufficient.

The Sermon on the Mount, which began in chapter five, continues here in chapter six. It is full of advice, set before us in a very straightforward and understandable presentation. Perhaps we could sum it up in a few phrases:

  1. Giving and Hypocrisy

  2. Praying and Hypocrisy

  3. Simplicity in Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer

  4. Fasting and Hypocrisy

  5. Earthly versus Heavenly Treasure

  6. Light versus Darkness

  7. God and Mammon

  8. Important versus Unimportant Needs

Each one of these phrases would be a profitable study. The amount of time required to do that in for daily blog entry makes that extremely impractical! But two points intrigue me; so, with your indulgence, I will explore them a bit more. Before that, a quick observation about verse 19ff. It says, “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal…” Notice the action of the thieves. It’s not “break in,” as we would say today. It’s “break through.” (Well, OK, in some versions, it is, “break in”; but the point remains the same.) The Greek text uses a word which, translated, actually says, where thieves dig through and steal. When you consider that many of the dwelling places in which people live at that time had walls made of earth, to “dig through” and steal wasn’t that hard – all you needed was a lookout and a little bit of time!

How is the eye the lamp of the body? How does a eye that is sound fill you with light, while an eye that is evil fill you with darkness?

St. John Chrysostom tells us that our Lord is teaching us concepts that we would not ordinarily comprehend if He immediately went to the main point. Instead, we learn from the analogy, talking about the health or disease of the body, in order to then comprehend the health or disease of our mind, and then the health or disease of our soul – for these are all connected. When the eyes are blinded, he says, most of the energy of the other parts of the body is quenched as well. The same is true when the mind is depraved; the rest of life is filled with countless evils. As the eye is to the body, so is the mind to the soul. If the organ by which we see light is put out or clouded over, then we cannot see clearly, and so are at risk. When we take the ability to reason and understand, given to us by God to drive away ignorance, and to make correct decisions, so as to avoid what might cause us injury, and neglect or misuse this gift to try to obtain what is unnecessary and useless (in terms of life, not in this world, but rather in the kingdom of heaven), then the light in us is darkness – that is, no light at all. The mind has the power to control the passions; but when we misuse our minds, we rob them of this power; and then, how great is the darkness within us then? We are blinded by our wicked desires; and only our Lord Jesus can restore our sight to us.

The other phrase that particularly draws my attention right now would actually be a subset of the “Important vs. Unimportant” category; specifically, verse 33: “But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We need to see that, in this part of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord is building upon earlier ideas to bring us to the core of what needs to be done. He began this part of the teaching by calling us to turn aside from the treasures of this world and to devote ourselves to setting aside for ourselves treasures in heaven. After all, the wealth of this world will not endure; nor can anyone take anything of material value with them when they depart from this life. What good, then, is wealth? We want to be rich, He says, so that we can obtain whatever it is that we desire: food, drink, clothing, and so on. He connects with the discourse about the eye and light, and warns us about allowing our spiritual and moral vision to become clouded, or even lost, by pursuing what is unnecessary, even harmful. We were not born to eat, or to drink, or to wear fine clothing; we were born to worship and glorify God. When we grasp this, and learn to set our souls to labor for that purpose, rather than a worldly one, we are set free from anxiety about such things. The Lord knows what we need, better than we know ourselves; and He will provide what we need to do our part in bringing about our salvation. Our attention, our energy, even our prayers, are to be to the end of coming to dwell in the kingdom of God, and helping others to do the same; and when we do this, whatever else we need will be given to us, as well. (And if we didn’t get it, it’s because we didn’t need it – but you have to learn to put aside the anxiety of, “what will I do if I don’t?” – and then you will find peace in the midst of the worst of circumstances.) May God grant that this will be so for us all!

Scripture texts are taken from the World English Bible.

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