Monday, August 29, 2011

Mark 6:17-29 May we look to John the Baptist, forerunner of Christ, for strength.

Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison
on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.
John had said to Herod,
“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.
Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man,
and kept him in custody.
When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed,
yet he liked to listen to him.
She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday,
gave a banquet for his courtiers,
his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee.
Herodias’ own daughter came in
and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests.
The king said to the girl,
“Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”
He even swore many things to her,
“I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom.”
She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?”
She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request,
“I want you to give me at once
on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests
he did not wish to break his word to her.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders
to bring back his head.
He went off and beheaded him in the prison.
He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl.
The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it,
they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Today's passage celebrates John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Christ. All we know about John the Baptist comes from the four gospels. Mark, being the first to document the life of John the Baptist, presents a man who appears to challenge the political authority of the king. He is beheaded in prison and his head is presented on a platter. This story is rich in detail which points to the direction it is likely illustrating a historical event. This story also tells us that John had disciples and they were wealthy enough to secure a tomb for his body. The fact that the story calls John, the Baptist, means he has already had such a following that he bears the title "Baptist". In contemporary iconography his head on a platter is a very sacred image. May we look to John the Baptist, forerunner of Christ, for strength. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Matthew 16:21-27 We don't have to prove ourselves to be loved by God

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
"God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
He turned and said to Peter,
"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life"
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct."

In this passage we see the christian paradox: "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". What an odd statement to make. But when we reflect on its meaning we come to realize that Jesus is trying to save us from our false-selves. We often create a false image of ourselves that we believe to be our true selves. We think that we are what we do or we are what we think we are but in reality we are sons and daughters of God. We don't have to prove ourselves to be loved by God. We simply are loved because of God's grace. Jesus helps us deconstruct our false-selves by telling us to love God and one another. When we get away from ourselves and look to others we end our self-centredness and begin a live with God in the centre. 

Matthew 25:14-30 We need to uses these gifts to serve God and our neighbour

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–
to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master’s money.
After a long time
the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents
came forward bringing the additional five.
He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
‘Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’'

In today's passage, we reflect on the how we are using God's gifts. In this parable those servants who used their talents (money) to increase their amount of talents were rewarded and the servant who did nothing but his talent was punished. These talents are like the gifts that we have been given. We need to uses these gifts to serve God and our neighbour. So often we don't like taking risks. We fear ridicule from our peers and fear failure. Here the servant who gave into his fears received punishment because he did nothing with is talent. So if you are gifted in speech, share it with the world. If you are a writer, write. If you are cook, cook. Share your gifts with the world because these gifts come from God. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Matthew 25:1-13 The escaton is both here and not yet

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
"Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!"
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
"Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out."
But the wise ones replied,
"No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves."
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
"Lord, Lord, open the door for us!"
But he said in reply,
"Amen, I say to you, I do not know you."

This passage reflects again the nature of the Kingdom of God. The escaton is both here and not yet. It has been ushered in with Jesus but only God knows when it will come to its full fruition. Here in this parable, Jesus explains that it will arrive when we least expect it. If we are not ready there will be no mercy, no entrance, and only judgement. If we do not live holy lives and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Kingdom of God, then like the virgins who were not ready, we will be left behind. So stay away, be ready, live out the teachings of Christ. Amen  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Matthew 24:42-51 Stay Awake and Avoid Sin

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

"Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant,
whom the master has put in charge of his household
to distribute to them their food at the proper time"
Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.
Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.
But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is long delayed,'
and begins to beat his fellow servants,
and eat and drink with drunkards,
the servant's master will come on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth."

This passage reminds us that the escaton is something of a mystery. The kingdom of God has started with Jesus but one never knows when the Jesus' final coming will happen. Here we are reminded to stay awake and avoid sin. So often in our faith we become lax and forget to pray, minister to others, and worship with others. We are called to constantly be vigilant so as not to fall prey to routine. The greatest enemy in spiritual warfare is routine. It dulls our senses and makes us complacent. Even our secular culture says life is short and one never knows when it will end. We must always make the best of what we have and always remember that being a person of faith is not only about prayers and worship but of serving the needs of others. 

John 1:45-51 John's high Christology

Philip found Nathanael and told him,
"We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law,
and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth."
But Nathanael said to him,
"Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him,
"Here is a true child of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him."
Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree."
Nathanael answered him,
"Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
Jesus answered and said to him,
"Do you believe
because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than this."
And he said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened and the angels of God
ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

This passage highlights Jesus' high christological character. Here he appears to see into the future and see Philip before actually seeing him. This is quite different than the other gospels because Jesus in the synoptic gospels appears to be more human like and have human limitations. In the Gospel of John we see Jesus often is able to read peoples thoughts, know the future, and foresee what is to come. The allusion to seeing greater things is foreshadowing the signs Jesus will use in the Gospel of John to bring people to faith, another stark difference with the synoptic gospels which require faith for the miracles to work. This is why the symbol for John the evangelist is an eagle due to his high christology.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Matthew 23:23-26 Judge yourself first

Jesus said:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean."

In this passage, Jesus continues to blast the religious leaders of his time for their lack of holiness and genuineness. He accuses them of cleansing the outside while being defiled in the inside. This image applies to all of us who call ourselves people of God. We often cloth ourselves in religious garb and pretend to be all holy and righteous when in reality we are sinners, fallen and in great need of God's grace. Christ is calling us out of our arrogant selves and reminding us that holiness is not something that is displayed to others but something interior. It is more important to grow in relationship with God than receive the praise of others. Before we go around judging others and calling them "heathens" we must remind ourselves that we are equally in need of God's grace. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Matthew 23:13-22 All we do, we do for God

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

"Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
'If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.'
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, 'If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.'
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it."

In this passage Jesus reminds us that religion and religious practices do not make things sacred but it is God that makes things sacred. So often we forget about God when we worship. It is so easy to get caught up in rituals, paintings, gold, and financial offerings that we often forget all this is to serve God. When we end up forgetting about God and do things for the religion, religion ceases to be a vehicle to God and becomes a tool that drives us away from God. Jesus' commentary on the religious practices of his time are a stark reminder to us that all we do we do for God and no one else. 

Matthew 23:1-12 Religion must be life giving

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

In this passage we receive a stern warning about the hypocrisy that often creeps into religion. Here we see a warming that we should not fall prey to the actions of religious leaders who often receive praise from the people and have the best of everything. Jesus in this passage is very critical of the religious leaders of his time, however, he is not saying Religion is a bad thing (which is often how this passage is interpreted). He is challenging the people to live out their Religion to its fullness and not be caught up in objects, customs, or positions of power. All religions ultimately fail and become corrupt, but that is not to say there is no truth in Religion. The reality is that Religion attempts to capture and celebrate God's being, which is of course impossible since God is so much greater than any person or religion. Religion has its place in teaching us truth, what we need to remember is religion is life giving and if it loses this it fails to have any relevance in our world. 

Matthew 22:34-40 The two greatest commandments

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law, tested him by asking,
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him,
"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

The challenge by the Pharisees is typical of their oral law based tradition. Pharisees were in constant conflict with the Sadducees over theological opinions over issues such as the Bodily Resurrection. In this story, Jesus' reply reflects what is found in the Torah. Most people often attribute this response to Jesus himself but he is drawing on an older tradition. Firstly there is no relationship with others without a relationship with God. Only through God can one fully grow into maturity. Secondly, without a relationship with others we often become self-centred. It is impossible to only love God while hating neighbour because it is though our neighbours God's grace and majesty is revealed. Only by balancing these two can one enter heaven. All the laws of the Torah flow from these two commandments.   

Matthew 22:1-14 Follow Christ' Call no matter how busy you are

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables
saying, “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

In this parable, we see a comparison with the Kingdom of God with a wedding feast. In this story the King invites many people to come to the party but few choose to go. Similarly, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God and few choose to follow him. Next we see a judgement passed on those who do not attend the wedding, similarly there is a belief that those who know Jesus' teachings and still refuse to follow them shall receive a harsh judgement. Finally we see that both good and bad are present  at the party but the King only wishes to eat with the good. This may be an allusion to the finial judgement where the goats and sheep are separated and only the sheep allowed to enter the kingdom. This parable reminds us that if we hear the words of Jesus, we must follow them regardless of how busy we are or where we are in life. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Matthew 20:1-16 God is free to award whatever God pleases

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
he found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In this parable we are reminded that God's grace is something that is freely given by God. Although we sometimes wish those who are more righteous should deserve more, God is free to award whatever God pleases. This is similar to the story of Jonah in that God forgave the enemies of the Jewish people while it was Jonah that wish hardship against his enemies. God's love is far greater that our own notions of love and forgiveness.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Matthew 17:22-27 God's kingdom is priceless

As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee,
Jesus said to them,
"The Son of Man is to be handed over to men,
and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day."
And they were overwhelmed with grief.

When they came to Capernaum,
the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said,
"Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?"
"Yes," he said.
When he came into the house, before he had time to speak,
Jesus asked him, "What is your opinion, Simon?
From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax?
From their subjects or from foreigners?"
When he said, "From foreigners," Jesus said to him,
"Then the subjects are exempt.
But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook,
and take the first fish that comes up.
Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax.
Give that to them for me and for you."

This passage is very rich in symbolism. Here we see Jesus challenging the religious institution of his time by first not paying a temple tax and then submitting to the custom of a temple tax through a miracle. Jesus' explanation on the need not to pay tax is interesting because what he is saying is that since they belong to God and are God's people why should they pay? Does salvation have a price? How can you take something spiritual and and put a price on it? This passage reminds us that our alms giving should be done our of love rather than compulsion. God's kingdom is priceless and so placing a mandatory tax on those who wish to praise God makes prayer cheap.

John 12:24-26 Christian Paradox: If you Love your life you will lose it, if you give up your life you will gain it.

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me."

This passage reflects on the Christian Paradox of having to lose one's life before gaining it. Here Jesus is talking about the need for his followers to put aside all their own ambitions, emotions, feelings, and attachments to make room to follow His message. In our lives it is extremely difficult to do this. The call to Christian fellowship requires sacrifice, but this sacrifice must be life giving. Only when we set aside our selfish desires do we allow God to work through us. Like St. Paul says, "Not I but Christ in me". In order for Christ to work in us, we need to purge all our negative and selfish baggage.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Matthew 14:22-33 We need to suffer before we really understand grace

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

 This passage likely points to a post resurrection experience of Jesus. Here Jesus' ability to walk on water can be taken literally, however when one looks at the culture of the period, walking on water was simply an attribute to someone of virtuous and heroic. However whether Jesus did walk on water or not is not important. What is important is that here we see Peter calling out to Jesus. His faith in Jesus allows him to walk on water however he begins to lose faith quickly and sinks. This is like us in our faith lives. We often go through times of ups and downs in our faith. Many times it is our egos that become inflated and we need to start sinking before we realize it is God's grace that gets us through. This image of Peter calling out to Jesus and Jesus hauling him up is symbolic of Jesus' undying patience with us. We need to sink before we really understand grace.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Matthew 17:1-9 Transfiguration of Jesus

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

This passage is celebrating the transfiguration of Jesus. Transfiguration according to the New Interpreter's Bible means "to undergo metamorphosis". So here Jesus is changing to reveal his divinity and his connection to the heavenly realm. Jesus is also being linked with the Mosaic tradition and his connection to the prophetic tradition becomes evident since he is seen beside Moses and Elijah. The location of being on top of a mountain should also remind the reader that Moses' connection with God takes place on a mountain. The naming of Peter, James, and John is significant because not all the disciples are present. It is likely these three disciples are included because of their position in the early church. Peter's announcement that they should build tents demonstrates he does not fully understand what he is seeing. The transfiguration was meant to reveal Jesus' divinity so creating something of the earth to contain it is impossible. The voice that speaks from a cloud should also remind readers that this is God, the same God who spoke to Moses in the form of a cloud. What is interesting about the statement "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" there is such an intimacy between God and Jesus. Jesus is God's beloved son, not just any offspring. Jesus is the favorite. This makes the insanity of the cross all the more difficult to comprehend.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Matthew 16:24-28 By letting go we are free to serve Christ fully

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay each according to his conduct.
Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

This passage presents great difficulty to many Christian followers because here Jesus is saying that suffering is a necessary part of being his follower. Jesus here confronts us with deconstructing our false selves and totally surrendering ourselves to God. The cross here is a symbol of suffering but also the vehicle of resurrection. Without the cross there is no salvation. When we are called to pick up our cross we are being asked to allow God to work through us no matter what our egos or false constructs of ourselves say. The point of this text is to liberate ourselves for our selfish desires and allow God to use us. The difficulty in clinging to material things is they break, get stolen, and divide people. By letting go of materialism and egoism we are free to serve Christ fully without being held back by our belongings or our fear of losing our belongings.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Matthew 16:13-23 Peter is able to see Christ for who he really is

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
and he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

This reading sheds some light on the way people perceived Jesus in his time. Here Matthew identifies the crowd as saying Jesus is "John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah or one of the prophets".   John the Baptist, according to Raymond Brown, was likely someone who worked closely with Jesus. Jesus in the Gospel of John works side by side with the Baptist and so his confusion with the Baptist points to the idea that John the Baptist is more popular than Jesus. His confusion with John the Baptist may also point to the absence of John the Baptist in this time period helping us date this question. Elijah is an important prophet who the Israelite people would have been familiar with who played an influential role in the faith life of the community. Noting other prophets indicates that Jesus is someone who the people thought was counter cultural. Every prophet is met with hostility because they proclaim the word of God which is often at odds with the contemporary culture of their time. All three titles point to Jesus as being someone who is valued by the people and who brings with him the word of God. The presence of this passage in all four gospels points to this as being rooted in a historical event.

The next major section of this text is Peter's identification of Jesus as the Christ. Here Peter is given the role of identifying Jesus' true identity. For this he receives the keys to the kingdom. Peter's clarity contrasts the disciples inability to comprehend Jesus' identity. This passage likely points to the importance of Peter in the early Christian communities and highlights him as being someone who has been destined to take a leadership role in the Church. Peter's inability to recognize Jesus' need to suffer and die reminds us that God's ways are unlike ours. Jesus is not simply someone who will restore order to the kingdom through revolution, he will restore the kingdom by being a suffering servant.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Matthew 15:21-28 God answers our prayers as long as we have faith

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
“Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not say a word in answer to her.
His disciples came and asked him,
“Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”
He said in reply,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He said in reply,
“It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters.”
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed from that hour.

In this passage, Jesus is confronted by a woman who is not a Jew who asks him to heal her daughter. Here Jesus is reluctant to heal her daughter saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Jesus' reluctance poses an interesting question, if Jesus is the messiah of all peoples why would he hesitate to heal this woman's daughter? Perhaps this woman helped Jesus clarify his mission and his understanding of his mission. Here she skillfully replies that "even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters"  meaning Jesus' salvation should have a trickle down effect helping all people. This story is so inconsistent with the social teachings of this time period that it is likely referring to a real event in the life of Jesus. What this woman tells us is that God answers our prayers as long as we have faith.