Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This is an important book because Cyril was known for his Old Testament exegesis, though this was overshadowed by his brilliance during the Christological controversy. There simply aren't enough of Cyril's writings in English. This was a much needed publication. Volume 2 is set to come out at a later time.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
This may be due, in part, to Gregory's love for his brethren in the church catholic in the Eastern part of the world. Early on in his life, Gregory spent Seven years living in Constantinople. He lived in a Latin district of the city with other Italian monks. Gregory served as Abbot of the monastery there. It was there that he learned pastoral supervision. He also spent a great deal of time in personal study.
Gregory had made a lot of friends with those theologians of the East. He learned their culture, he grew to understand ritual and piety of the Eastern church. The Eastern churches did not "evolve" like the Western churches, so it had more the aire of the Early Church. Perhaps this is why the sermons of Gregory remind me of Early Patristic preaching.
Gregory had strengths in Exegetical treatments of the scriptures, but his greatest contribution would be in his pastoral theology. Pastoral theology is not simply trying to help somebody with their immediate issue. A pastoral theologian understands the soul and how it behaves. A pastoral theologian is not a "counselor" but a man who understands sin, grace and how the soul "banters" back and forth in between sin and grace.
Gregory was such a man. He is best known for his book "The Pastoral Rule," which was the only book written by a Latin theologian in the medeival period to be translated into Greek during his own lifetime by the Eastern church. Gregory knew how to get to the heart of the issue. When we think we are being pious or humble or forgiving in the midst of difficulties, he takes it one more step and exposes our hidden "agendas" our political maneuverings, our quiet submission which is only used for revenge later.
Perhaps this is why I was struck by a sermon of his last night. I quote Gregory at length:
"True patience consists in bearing calmly the evils done us by another, and in not being consumed by resentments against the person who inflicts them. A person who bears the evils done him by his neighbor, so that he suffers them in silence, while looking for a time for suitable revenge, is not practicing patience but only displaying it."
A few lines later, Gregory adds:
"But we should know that often we appear patient because we are unable to repay evils. A person who does not repay an evil becauses he can't is not patient, as I have said. We are not looking for a patience on the surface but in the heart. The vice of impatience destroys teaching, which is the nurse of virtues. It is written: 'The teaching of a man is known by his patience'[Prov. 19:11]. Each person shows himself to be less learned the more he proves to be less patient. He cannot truly impart good by his teaching if he does not know how to bear calmly with the evils done him by another. It is Solomon again who discloses how high patience is ont he scale of virtues: 'Better a patient man than a brave one, a man master of himself than one who takes cities'[Prov. 16:32]. Taking cities is a smaller victory because the places we conquer are outside of ourselves; a greater one is won by patience, because a person overcomes himself, and subjects himself to himself, when patience brings him low in bearing with others in humility."
Then, Gregory nails all hidden hearts, including my own at times.
"But we must be aware that it often happens to the patient that at the time they suffer opposition or hear insults they feel no distress and they practice patience, taking care also to guard their innocence of heart. But after a little while they call to mind the things they have endured, and blaze up in violent resentment. They seek ways of revenge, and lose the gentleness they had when they were willing to bear with others. They pass judgment on themselves by their change of heart."
The wisdom of Gregory regarding the soul's ways is quite profound. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us to give our enemies the other cheek when they strike the first. Perhaps this is also the reason that Jesus stresses to us to love our enemies, because if we cannot love our enemies then we cannot live in this world in godly wisdom, humility, and in pious devotion.
The problem? None of us are able to love our enemies on our own. The scenario that Gregory describes in his sermon is a picture of us all. "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"(Romans 7:24-25)
If we want to be wise in the godly way, if we want to be humble and loving our enemies, then we must reside in Christ and learn from Him. We are to rest in His merits, for in His cross alone are we to be saved. Then, as God uses us, we will face our own struggles and hardships which will require prayer to our Lord seeking His mercy--and His mercy in the long run may be that you learn to love those who persecute you without the inner need to get revenge.
Above all things, remain at the cross and covered with the blood of Jesus. He paid for your sins and will guide you on this this Christian road. Thanks be to God for the wisdom given to Gregory through his own struggles in this life.
Citations are from "Forty Gospel Homilies" by Gregory the Great
Translated by Dom David Hurst, Cistercian Publications
Kalamazoo, MI, 1990
It is my intention and hope to be more regular in my posting again.
Peace to all through Christ Jesus,
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The Christian layperson will struggle as well. Suffering is not unique to the pastoral office. One may look at the long line of faithful martyrs in church history to see that being united to Christ will bring forth wounds of their own. This particular article, therefore, deals with how the church catholic dealt with suffering.
This author wants to start, oddly enough, with something that takes place during Advent. In the third week of Advent it has been a liturgical custom for centuries that the church observe what has been called "The Ember Days." Originally, the Ember Days were an occasion of thanksgiving for the three great harvests of wheat, grapes, and olives--all very meaningful nature symbols employed by the liturgy. In the Offertory procession the "faithful" brought their tithes of the harvest to be used for the offering then and there, for the support of the Church, and for the poor. Hence, the Ember days were opportunities for the "faithful" to extend themselves to the poor and those in need.
Since this is the Pentecost season, it is best to leave a discussion of the Ember days for one of the Pentitential seasons, but it it is needful for our purposes today to mention that the Ember days were three days of fasting. St. Leo the Great who was Pope in the 400's has some very good sermons for the Ember days. Here is a quote from one of those sermons:
"With the anxious solicitude proper to us as the shepherd of your souls, we urge upon you the rigid observance of this December fast. The month of December has come round again, and with it this devout custom of the Church. The fruits of the year now drawing to a close have all been gathered in, and therefore meetly do we offer our abstinence to God as a sacrifce of thanksgiving. What can be more useful than fasting?..."
A paragraph later St. Leo continues, "But since fasting is not the only means to secure health for our souls, let us adorn our fasting with works of mercy. Spend in good deeds what you withdraw from suerfluidity. Our fast must be turned into a banquet for the poor. Let us devote time and effort to the underprivileged, the widow and the orphan; let us show sympathy to the afflicted and reconcile the estranged; provide lodging for the wanderer and relieve the oppressed; give clothing to the naked and cherish the sick."
In other words, St. Leo is giving counsel and exhibiting that he is a pastoral theologian. He understands that fasting is difficult for the body and, consequently, difficult for the soul. Fasting leads the Christian to cry out for Christ. So, what is at the heart and center of St. Leo's encouragement for the Christian to extend himself to the poor and needy at this time?
This author surmises that it has something to do with how a person tends to react during difficulty and suffering (upomeno). Because of our sinfulness, we tend to have a reaction of frustration and even anger. We may become unpleasant, short tempered and bombastic. Suffering causes us to look inward and see how bad we have it. When we do this, we are forgetting that it is God who allows us to suffer, not in order that we may be miserable but that we may look outward in our focus and seek Jesus all the more. In fact, the Greek word for suffering (upomeno), among other things, takes up the meaning "patient endurance." The root word, meno, means "to remain."
It is this author's opinion that what St. Leo is doing in his Ember day sermon is encouraging the Christians to extend themselves to others when they suffer in order that they will not go inward in their focus and become despairing. It is a way of "remaining with patient endurance"(upomeno) during difficult times.
The point of this particular article is to encourage the Christian, pastor and laity alike. Certainly fasting is a worthy exercise for the Christian, and Advent and the Ember days are good times to reflect in expectation and repentance. The emphasis of this musing is to highlight the importance of this mindset and practice all throughout the Church's liturgical year. This way of thinking is for whenever the Christain suffers. Is the pastor having a lot of trouble in his parish because he is trying to teach and practice faithfully? Is the Christian mother or father having familial difficulties due to differences in "spirituality?" Are Christian parents suffering because their teachings to their children are being compromised by society? Or is Satan pushing on you because you are yoked to Christ through baptism?
Anger, hate, verbal explosions, short temperedness and all sorts of negative behavior due to suffering will not help you. In fact, it will compound your problems. Jesus allows suffering for the Christian in order that we might cling less and less to this world and our existence in it. Hebrews 12:5 reminds us that suffering is the Lord's instruction. This is why St. Paul can say to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better" (Philippians 1:21-23).
If one thinks about it, St. Leo's instruction to serve the poor and needy is the very action of saying that the things of this world are not the most important thing to us. It even communicates to Satan that we do not regard our present suffering as anything compared to the glories of the kingdom. Hence, St. Paul's statement to the Romans, "For I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us"(Romans 8:18).
What can people do in the church in the midst of suffering? The pastor should extend himself to others in kindness and service in spite of his desire to say "to hell with it." All Christians, clergy or laity, could visit the sick, the shut-ins, and help those in need.
St. Leo, in my opinion, was not leading people to their own works as a means of comfort. Instead, he was encouraging the Christians not to despair in the mist of suffering because despairing is destructive to the faith as we see with Judas Iscariot. Instead, serving others is meant to promote the ecclesial love of Christ, helping us to direct our focus to heaven as we put off the things of this world.
Jesus loves His saints and He only desires that they cry out to Him for salvation (for salvation comes only through the merits of Christ) and in service and love for their fellow man (the fruit of salvation).
The blesssing of Jesus be upon all of you as you continue en odw tou Xristou (on the road of Christ).
Saturday, August 04, 2007
The scriptures have an overall message--Jesus Christ, God and Man, came into the world to die on the cross for the life of the world. He rose from the dead and all those who believe in Him shall inherit eternal life. With this in mind, we begin to mature as we search the detail of the scriptures. The mysteries of Christ come to life in the details. The careful student soon realizes that one could spend an eternity gazing upon the magnificence of Christ through the scriptures.
St. Matthew 8:5-13 and St. Luke 7:1-10 are parallel accounts of the same occurrence, yet they differ for theological reasons. A careful reading of these two accounts will reveal something about the Gospel of St. Matthew. It is written for a Jewish audience. It also reveals something about the Gospel of St. Luke. It is written for a Gentile audience, namely, Theophilus.
The account in St. Matthew 8 deals with an important Centurion. He had a servant who was paralyzed and, we are told, dreadfully tormented. The Greek word for "dreadfully tormented" is "Basanizomenos," the root word meaning "to be tortured." The word is actually a word for "testing gold" or torturing to get information. It demonstrates the severity of the servants suffering.
This Centurion was a caring master. It pained him to see his servant suffering the very torments of hell. He knew Who would be able to stop the torments of hell. This in itself is a detailed and somewhat hidden picture which preaches the breaking open of the gates of hell by Jesus Christ.
The basis of this particular musing is on how the Centurion comes to Jesus. St. Matthew 8:5-6 begins this way, "As He was coming into Capernaum, a Centurion came to Him urging Him and saying, 'Lord, my child has been laid up in the house and he is a paralytic, being terribly tortured.'"
N0tice the detail: The Centurion in his urgency stops what he is doing and goes to Jesus, a caring master, indeed. Passing over, then, to St. Luke 7:1 we notice that this is a parallel account to the St. Matthew 8 pericope. In St. Luke 7:2-3 we hear of the Centurion. He hears that Jesus has come. In verse 3 it says, "[the centurion] sent to Him[Jesus] presbyters of Judea asking Him that He might come and save his servant."
Quite a difference. St. Matthew and St. Luke give to the church a record of the same account but with some differences. St. Matthew doesn't tell the church that the Centurion sends "presbyteroi" (presbyters) to talk to Jesus. St. Matthew says that the Centurion talks to Jesus. He gives the church the indication that Jesus and the Centurion are having a face to face conversation. St. Luke gives us a very different picture in that regard. Is St. Matthew trying to deceive the church or "pull a fast one?" By no means. This is God-breathed Holy Scripture. It is truth.
Between these two accounts exists something of a profound theological nature. This particular musing focuses on the difference between St. Matthew's lack of information regarding the presbyters versus St. Luke's inclusion of the presbyters. What is a presbyter?
It is often translated as "elder" and is somewhat misleading, given our current culture. A presbyter is not a member of the board of elders in your local LCMS congregation. A presbyter is an "overseer, a shepherd, a pastor." This word has Old Testament roots and varies in function but in the New Testament it is always used for the one who presides over the Christian assembly or church.
What this writer finds fascinating is that a presbyter was one who was like an abassador. An ambassador is one who serves a master or a king. The king or master has some message that needs to be communicated to another person, but it is not sensible for the king or master to travel on his own to give the message. So, the king gives the message to the ambassador or "presbyteros" and the presbyteros travels to the person and gives the message directly. One thing that is important to remember about this office of presbyteros is that the recipient of the king's message hears the message from the presbyteros and he hears it as if the king himself is doing the speaking. The recipient readily understands that the presybuteros is only the mouth for the king. The recipient hears the king speaking.
This is precisely what is happening in these two parallel accounts of the Centurion. The office of presbyteros, being an Old Testament concept, is a readily understood concept in Jewish culture. It evidently was not so clearly understood in the Gentile context. St. Matthew gives the account and translates the conversation in a way that is actually giving us the definition of a presbyteros. As far as St. Matthew is concerned, the presbyters of Judea who are giving the message to Jesus, for all practical purposes, aren't even there. The Centurion is there. St. Luke explains it out and mentions the presbyters of Judea because Theophilus may not have readily understood the concept.
In the New Testament the office of presbyteros is used exclusively for the office of pastor. St. Luke uses the word frequently in the book of Acts, and St. Paul uses it in the same fashion for pastors in his letters (see 1 Timothy 5:17,19; Titus 1:5). St. Peter uses it in 1 Peter 5:1-5. It is translated as "overseer in verse 2 and elder in verse 5.
What is so important about all of this is that the nature and character of this office is clearly seen when both St. Matthew 8 and St. Luke 7 are placed side by side. This office is that of messenger, ambassador and overseer. It carries with it a duty to communicate the words of the king without wavering or changing even one word. Words spoken by the presbyter are the king's words, and the pastor is a presbyter.
Perhaps this is why St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:10, "and now anyone that you forgive, I also forgive and if I have forgiven anything I have forgiven it for your sakes *in the person of Christ*." Though St. Paul doesn't use the word presbyteros here in describing his actions, he is saying that when he forgives it is in the person of Christ. In other words, it is Christ who forgives, St. Paul is only the ambassador sent to speak the words of the king. This passage of Paul's is a very important one.
Herein lies the biblical notion of the office of the keys. Jesus says to the apostles, "Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any they are retained"(St. John 20:22-23). This is presbyteroi language.
This has the two-fold effect of reminding the church to esteem the pastoral office because Christ speaks through it while, at the same time, reminding the man in the office that it is not "about the man." The ordained man is only the mouthpiece of Jesus, with the caution that he must not waver from the teachings of Christ. Rather, he is to speak like Christ.
By the grace of God it is done. Today, I thankfully and humbly acknowledge that five years ago today the Lord placed me into this office through the laying on of hands. A most difficult calling it is, but a most blessed one at that. The Lord sustain and bless all of His men who have been ordained and serve as messengers, ambassadors, and overseers of God's people. Kyrie Eleison.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Jesus, the Bridegroom of the church, is the one we look to for patterns of the Christian life. How He prays, what He prays, and the love He shows should all be examples for us as to holy living. St. Luke tells us in chapter 4:16 that it was Jesus' custom to go into the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath. The word for "custom" in Greek, eiwthos, means that it was a habitual practice of Jesus to go into the Synagogue on the Sabbath. Some may unwittingly conclude that Jesus does it because He hasn't abrogated the Old Testament cultus at that point in time. Some may say that we should really look at the practice of the apostles to see a programmatic trend to follow.
Looking, then, at the book of Acts we see the practice. Acts is duly named in Greek "praxeis apostolwn" which means "practice of the apostles." So, it is fitting to see how the early apostolic church lived out its confession. In Acts 17:1-2 we are told that it was St. Paul's custom to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath. The word for "custom" is the same word for Christ's custom, "eiwthos." It was an ongoing habit of St. Paul to frequent the Sabbath. We cannot say that Paul is a Judaizer. After all, he rebukes St. Peter for judaizing. St. Paul is a missionary to the Gentiles. Yet, it was habit for him to go into the synagogues.
It is worth noting that St. Luke, who followed St. Paul for a time, begins and end his gospel in an interesting way. Luke begins and ends his gospel with scenes in the temple. This is strange considering St. Luke is writing the gospel with the intention that Theophilus, a Gentile, will read it. This author is particularly interested in how the gospel ends: "And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen." In Acts 21, a subtle hint is given. St. Luke, the author of Acts, switches to the 1st person plural and includes himself with Paul. Perhaps Paul's practice impacted Luke.
What is most fascinating concerning the aspect of liturgical ritual in Acts is found subtly interspersed.
- Acts 3:1 "Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour." This is an appointed hour of prayer, but there is some background surrounding this liturgical hour. Twice a day in the temple a burnt offering was performed on behalf of the community, once at dawn and the other at the ninth hour, the time Peter and John are going up to pray.
- Acts 10:3ff "About the ninth hour of the day he [Cornelius] saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, 'Cornelius!' And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, 'What is it, Lord?' So he said to him, 'Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter."
- Acts 10:9 "The next day, as they [Cornelius' men sent to Simon Peter] went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour." Peter then receives a prophetic message concerning Cornelius and his men.
- Acts 10:30 We learn what Cornelius was doing at the ninth hour in Acts 10:3. "So Cornelius said, 'Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before in bright clothing..." It was customary that if one could not make it to the synagogue, they were to break at the hour of prayer and pray.
One more thing is important in Acts concerning ritual, the ongoing practice of the church. Acts 13:1-2 we are told that there were people in the church in Antioch-prophets, teachers, and some of the bishops of the Gentile church. In verses 2 we are told, "they were worshipping and fasting to the Lord, and the Holy Spirit said, "Separate for me Barnabas and Saul for the work which I have called them. Then fasting and praying and placing their hands upon them, they sent them out." The word in verse two for "worshipping" is the word "leitourgountwn," which is the word for liturgy. It is a participle, denoting ongoing activity and it is a word that emphasizes the public or corporate aspect of the prayer and devotion of the church.
This writer thinks that it is worth noting something about all of these verse in Acts. These verses which deal with someone praying and "liturgy-ing" all have something in common. The Lord communicates His love to others and the church at large. In every one of these instances someone is either healed, or directed by God to blessings, or ordained through the laying on of hands. Perhaps this is meant to be a hint to the church catholic. Go in the midst of liturgy and God will convey something to you.
Perhaps Christ's institution of the sacraments before His departure, then, have a home in the midst of liturgy because it is through baptism and the Lord's Supper that He promises to give the Holy Spirit and even Himself for the life of the world. To the Jews ritual was important and meant to be a comfort and sign of God's love. It was home. This is carried forward in the life of Jesus and even in the lives of the apostles.
May the church catholic be renewed in the knowledge that ritual notions of prayer and liturgy are not new and legalistic innovations. Rather, they are practices of the church which lead Christians out of this world for a time and into the godly and heavenly presence of Jesus Christ who comes to us, albeit through means, to convey His love to His children.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
In the early days of the church, the sacraments were often referred to as "mysteries" and for good reason. Mystagogical catechesis was a revelation of those mysteries. Baptism is a good example. If a pagan were to stumble into church to witness a baptism, then he would be utterly confused by only letting his eyes educate him as to what is taking place.
Baptism is a mystery. It is a gift of God, and faith knows what it is. The eyes of faith recognize the blessing of baptism, but the eyes of the body are far too weak to discern the mystery apart from teaching.
Concerning infant baptism it is simple enough to cite such passages as Acts 2:38-39, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." This is often referred to as "proof texting." The problem with proof texting is someone from another denomination will try to tell you that "children" in Greek can be interpreted as the "young in faith."
Mystagogical catechesis, to over-simplify, is different. It gives you the whole history of God's people, from Old Testament to New Testament and interprets it all in a Christological and Sacramental way. So, mystagogically speaking, how might we hear a preacher like St. Cyril of Jerusalem tackle such a topic as "why infant baptism?" Read on.
In the Old Testament one finds much to ponder concerning water. Here are but a few examples. In Genesis 8, Noah is in the Ark with his family and the animals. The world is flooded by God, killing the rampant and out of hand world of sin. Those saved are the godly, eight in all. Being saved through water they embark on a new road which sounds a lot like what happens when the world was created. Genesis 9:1-3 is almost a repeat of what God says in Genesis 1:26 about the animals being there for the benefit of man. God even indicates that Noah will rule the beasts of the earth, just as is said about Adam. This is likened to Noah passing through water and embarking on a new road, a new life. This whole account carries with it the notion of a "new creation."
What is more pointed, perhaps, is what happens in Leviticus. In Leviticus 8:6, "Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water." Exodus 30:20 tells us why--"When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the Lord, they shall wash with water, lest they die." The wash basin was located in the outer court, outside the inner court and holiest of holies. Translate this into New Testament fulfillment--If you want to enter God's presence, then you must be washed clean. This brings to mind Christ's words to Nicodemus, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." The Holiest of Holies in the Old Testament is where God's presence dwelt. It was to be likened to the "kingdom of God." Hence, the priests had to wash.
In another instance, Joshua 1:2-3 shows the exchange of the prophetic office from Moses to Joshua. Moses dies and Joshua takes over. The first thing Joshua does is he leads Israel to pass through the Jordan River. Passing through water, they enter the holy land, the land of paradise. Joshua 3:7-8 points out that God does not begin to exalt Joshua in the eyes of Israel until the day they pass through the Jordan. Joshua begins his new road and so does Israel as they pass through water at God's command.
In 2 Kings 2:6, Elijah goes to the Jordan River to pass through it in order that he may be taken up to heaven. Elijah and Elisha pass through the Jordan (the River is parted). After Elijah is taken up, Elisha is given the promise of a double portion of Elijah's spirit. So, in verse 14 Elisha parts the water and crosses over the Jordan. Elisha begins a new road after passing through the Jordan and the people recognize, saying, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha"(2 Kings 2:15). Elisha, passing through water, becomes new.
One of the best images which gives the picture of baptism in the Old Testament is that of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. Naaman, a hardened, Gentile war commander has leprosy, a skin disease. One of the things about a successful war commander to keep in mind is that he probably has weathered skin. He probably has scars and signs from past battles. Naaman comes to Elisha to be healed of leprosy, and he is told to wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman becomes furious because he was expecting a "big show" to accompany this healing and is disappointed that washing in the muddy Jordan was the command. At the prompting of his servants, he obeys Elisha's command. What happens tells it all.
Naaman's skin, we are told, was not only cleansed of leprosy but it was restored like the flesh of a little child. In other words, this washing, in a sense, gives Naaman a new birth. His skin was better than before he had the leprosy. God's love heals wounds and goes even further than what we expect. Keep in mind that this is not baptism because Christ had not instituted it, but it gives the church the understanding of a "new beginning, a new creation, a new road." What we find after Naaman comes out of the water is that he goes back to Elisha and confesses, "I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel..."(2 Kings 5:15). And Naaman says that he will no longer "offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to THE LORD"(verse 17). Passing through water, Naaman believes AND worships in a way different from the world (think historic liturgy). He went from the perspective of demanding his own way of receiving God's gifts to a different mindset, which consisted of submitting to the Lord's ways in worship, life, and confession.
It is fitting, then, that John the Baptist comes baptizing with a baptism of repentance. Baptism marks the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament (But, then again, so does John). But, one may ask, "why does Jesus need to be baptized by John? Jesus doesn't have sin. He doesn't need to repent." True.
Where does Jesus go to be baptized? The Jordan River. Here comes the fulfillment and the answer to all those Old Testament occurrences through water and in the Jordan River. John tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized, but Jesus says, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness"(St. Matthew 3:15). What does it mean to "fulfill all righteousness?" The righteousness that Jesus is talking about in this writer's opinion is the pattern of the Old Testament. It is the priests washing before entering the holiest of holies. It is Joshua, Elijah, Elisha and even Naaman all wrapped up in Jesus. Jesus is saying that the Old Testament and all of the water occurrences are indicative of the pattern of God's way. Even Jesus observes the practice of passing through water(This emphasizes Christ's humanity.) As we know, Christ's being baptized is the beginning of His road to the cross, certainly running parallel to the Old Testament accounts listed above.
Just as the Levitical priests had to wash in the basin before enter the tabernacle, so today people become "spiritual priests" through baptism and are granted the right to enter God's presence as holy only through Christ's covering which comes through baptism.
Hence, if a person wants to become a Christian, be forgiven, and live a new life in Christ, then it only naturally follows that he or she must be born of water and the Spirit (St. John 3:5). Whether it be a child or an adult who comes to faith, it is fitting that they, like all those cloud of saints who have gone before us, should pass through water and the word at Christ's command, beginning a new road and becoming a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Galatians 6:15). Having the blessings of Christ's death and resurrection poured into the water and at His command the person receives something much more--the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and the covering of Christ which stamps us as Christ's own.
In the big picture, from Old Testament to New Testament, it makes sense that St. Peter would say that regardless if the person be young or old, he should repent and pass through the precious waters of baptism, both, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, but to also embark on the new road that belongs to the Lord. What a holy mysterion (mystery) is baptism! Thanks be to God.
Friday, June 29, 2007
St. Cyril, who lived in the 400s AD, saw this as a soteriological problem (a problem in man's salvation). If Jesus, upon becoming man, laid aside His deity, then only a man died on the cross at Golgotha and that which is creaturely was used to ransom man from sin. This would have the ill effect of putting creature above God, something that is cosmologically impossible. To bring this in to the discussion, though, does not do this whole issue between Cyril and Nestorius justice, for there was much more at stake. Nestorius' views, had they been true, would have come at a cost--the loss of the very Gospel itself.
I am no Cyrilline scholar myself, but I bring his name into this discussion because just as the two natures of Christ enjoy a unity, likewise the Old Testament and the New Testament enjoy a unity.
It is often the thought among students of the scriptures that, while the New Testament is very "user friendly" the Old Testament is like a nagging step-mother who constantly reminds the step-child that he is only a half-breed. The Old Testament often keeps us from concluding that we understand all that we are as Christians. It sometimes leaves us feeling as though we are "sub-par" Christians, not fully "getting it."
I know we are well past the Festival of the Transfiguration, but this has been on my mind, so let us delve into the scriptures in order that we may understand the unity of the Scriptures to the chagrin of Marcion the heretic.
Moses, prophet exemplar, went up the mount (Mt. Sinai). Exodus 34 gives us the account. Moses went up the mountain and in verse 5 the Lord descends in a cloud. We are told that God stood there in the cloud and "proclaimed the name of the Lord." And God proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..."(Ex. 34:6-7). It is significant that Moses, we are told, made haste and bowed face down to worship the Lord(proskuneo).
What happens after this is crucial in the grand scheme of the scriptures and of Jesus Christ. Not only is Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. He is also told, "Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth...for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you"(Exodus 34:10). This is the establishment of the prophetic office. The Christological road is set as the prophetic office begins on the top of a mountain in a cloud with God.
What a chapter! At the end of chapter 34 we see something unfold. Verse 29 says, "Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses hand when he came down from the mountain), taht Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him [God]. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him"(verse 30). We are told that when Moses would go in to talk with God his face would shine. Moses would speak to the people this way and then put on the veil until the next prophetic utterance.
The image and the message the church is to receive from all of this is really quite simple. Moses, a man, a sinner, one who is "slow of speech and slow of tongue"(Exodus 4:10) comes down the mountain as "God to the people." Do not take this to the illogical conclusion that this is a statement of Moses' essence. He represents God, He is a shaliach, to use the Hebrew. To say that Moses is "God to the people is not an unhealthy step, considering Exodus 4:16 says, "So he [Aaron] shall be your spokesman to the people. Andn he himself shall be as a mouth for you, *and you shall be to him as God." There it is. Moses is as God to Aaron and Aaron is his mouth. Hence, Moses is as God to the people. Revolutionary? Unheard of? So is the incarnation to Pharisees.
In St. Matthew 17 we hear of Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a mountain. Jesus is transfigured and shines in His glory. His face shone, and Moses and Elijah appear in a cloud that descended upon the mountain. Peter is thinking St. Peter wants to make tabernacles for Moses, Jesus, and Elijah. Read Exodus 33:9. St. Peter sees a connection between what he witnesses and the holy Scriptures of Exodus.
God speaks in this cloud as He did on Mount Sinai, but with a change. Rather than talking about mercy, longsuffering, and forgiveness, the voice of the Lord proclaims Jesus, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"(St. Matthew 17:5). Jesus is the very essence of mercy, longsuffering and forgiveness. The disciples fall face down on the ground like Moses. It all ends by the disciples looking up and only seeing Jesus. The scene ends by Jesus walking down the mountain with the disciples. His face is *not* shining.
Mark the contrast: Moses--a man, a sinner, comes down the mountain his face shining with the glory of God. He holds the Ten Commandments in his hands. Holy words inscribed, but he comes down the mountain with holy oracles which condemn (2nd use of the law). Moses comes down as "God to the people." (Herein lies the notion of Shaliach--"presbuteros" "Ambassador or representative").
On the flip side: Jesus--God, without sin and Divine in essence shines on the mountain and in the cloud (This shows His Divinity). Jesus comes down the mountain not in His glory but He comes down "as man for the people." Moses comes down as God for the people. Jesus comes down as man for the people. What a strange twist, but why?
Because Christ's proper work entails Him walking down to the depths as the definitive man--true man who dies as a man and in the "likeness of sinful flesh" having kept that law of Moses. God comes down the mountain to be one of us and die for His people. Jesus comes not shining but wearing flesh.
Nestorius the heretic might have liked this emphasis of Jesus coming down the mountain as a flesh and blood man but he would miss the point. It is total irony. Just as Moses should have been coming down the mountain wearing the face of a sinner, Jesus should have come down wearing the face of divinity. Instead, Moses comes down with his face shining, and Jesus comes down with the face of a sinner.
Moses' sinful side would get the better of him when he fails to do as God instructed him in regards to producing water for the people to drink. This would keep him out of the promised land of Israel. On the flip side, Christ's divinity would come forth as God dies for the sins of the world.
It is a lot to ponder, but I think St. Cyril would like it. In the Transfiguration, we see the Divine nature and the human nature of Jesus Christ working together as the unity of Christ.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The Holy Scriptures, as St. Paul declares to Timothy, are all "God-breathed" (Theopneustos) and profitable for instruction (Didaskalion), for rebuking, for correction, and for instruction into righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
Throughout the history of the church catholic, there has always been the debate as to how we interpret the Holy Scriptures. This goes back to the very beginnings of the church and even had an influence in the forming of the canon, the canon being the accepted books of the Bible as the inspired word of God. This debate continued on and is divided in church history by two geographic regions. One method of interpretation is dubbed "The School of Alexandria." This school was very fond of the use of allegory.
The other school of intepretation, "The School of Antioch," is centered around an interpretation of the Scriptures that has tightly formed hermeneutical rules which govern one's understanding of the scriptural text. To say that the school of Antioch took on a literalistic approach is not correct, however. They, too, had layers of meaning in the text. The difference was that the Antiochene school worked by their hermeneutical "interpretive" rules. The Alexandrian school tended to be more loose in its intepretation of the different layers. To the Antiochene school, the Alexandrians loose methods were dangerous and left up to the interpreter. The Antiochene school believed that the the methods and guidelines of interpretation belonged to the church. This latter school did, of course, use typology and spiritual interpretations.
The church finds its source and method of interpretation within the scriptures themselves. We find many examples in the New Testament, where the apostles through their preaching and administration of the church demonstrate for us how to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. We learn how to understand the Regula Fidei "Rule of Faith," the gospel itself.
A good example of how the church is to interpret the scriptures is found in Christ's own words through a story meant for the Pharisees to hear. St. Luke 16:19-31 treats of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is the whole dialogue between the rich man who, being dead, is in Hades, and Father Abraham who holds Lazarus in his arms in heaven.
What is important for the purposes of this article is found at the end of the chapter. The rich man doesn't want his brothers to suffer the same conclusion. So, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers in order to warn them on how to live (ie. the life of faith).
How does Abraham respond? "They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them"(St. Luke 16:29). The Greek demonsrates urgency in the rich man's response, "(Ouxi) No! Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead were to journey to them, they will repent." Abraham responds with a statement that grants us great hermeneutical (interpretive) insight into the Old Testament and Christ. "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone were to rise from the dead"(St. Luke 16:31).
What a note on which to end! If the hearer or interpreter of the scriptures does not pay close enough attention, then one may miss this intepretive benchmark from Jesus Himself. "They have Moses and the Prophets." What does Abraham mean by "Moses and the Prophets?" Moses represents the 5 books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). The Prophets means the rest of the Old Testament. Moses was a prophet, but his being singled out highlights his importance in the whole scheme of the Old Testament salvation history. First, this means that the Old Testament has been given to bring life to its hearers. Even the Old Testament saves those who listen (upakouw). Second, we see that the Old Testament is equated to the proclamation of one rising from the dead. "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead."
If the hearts are hardened and the veil goes over their hearts when Moses is read (2 Cor. 3:15), then Jesus rising from the dead will do them no good, either. One wouldn't think this would be the case. One rising from the dead would be much more of a "wake up call" than just hearing holy words proclaimed in one's midst. The point lies in the message of the Old Testament. Is it simply a dead letter or does it proclaim something life-giving?
What Abraham is saying is this: The Old Testament preaches and proclaims the death and resurrection of the Messiah, though it is somewhat veiled. The proclamation of this message in the temple will bear this out. They are to go and listen. These words proclaimed, being "God-breathed" scripture has the power to change hearts and bring life. These words preach the resurrection of one man--the Messiah. We know that Abraham's exhortation to the Old Testament is not a flippant response. Jesus, we are told, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them using all the writings concerning Himself"(St. Luke 24:27).
This whole account of the Rich Man and Lazarus should remind the church of, both, the necessity of missions as well as the realization that church programs will not convert the heart of a person. If they will not listen to the Holy Scriptures, and if they do not find "one rising from the dead" in and amongst the scriptures, then the word is like a dead letter to them. It will only kill and slay.
It is only when one hears of the one dying and rising from the dead, and believes that He is God and Man, that life can be obtained. Only then can one's soul be ransomed from Hades.
It is the task of the church to preach Jesus Christ crucified, died, and resurrected because this alone frees the soul from the captivity of Satan. It is in the gospel that the church can then breathe a breath of fresh air, the aroma of Christ and find the only peace it can really know. It is this gospel that enables the church to gather around the sacrament and rejoice in it. The Old Testament, therefore, is a preaching of this very gospel. We find in it typology--images and hints at baptism, the Eucharist, Confession/Absolution, the church, and the pattern and life-giving of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this way, the church carries on and finds the peace that surpasses all understanding from Old Testament to New Testament, the "God-breathed" holy Scriptures which brings life.
Monday, May 21, 2007
The Gospel according to St. John is interesting for many reasons. It is not a part of the synoptic tradition. As Luther once remarked in a sermon, He liked St. John the best because St. John let Jesus speak for Himself. In other words, Luther believed that St. John has more of Jesus' sermons than the synoptic gospels. You be the judge as to the truth and validity of that statement.
Nevertheless, St. John 13-16 makes for some very interesting ecclesiology. These chapters take place in the upper room at the time of the Passover meal. St. John omits the institution of the Lord's Supper. In chapter 13, Jesus stoops down to wash the disciples' feet. He is putting all things in order before He dies. Why the washing of the feet? This may be perplexing unless once thinks about the rich imagery and symbolism that weaves in and out of the Holy Scriptures. There is a Jewish form of literature that focuses on such themes as "road, way, path, light, and feet." It can be seen in the psalms, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"(Psalm 119:105).
It is seen in the gospel of St. Mark when Jesus says, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me"(St. Mark 8:34). It is seen a verse before when Jesus tells St. Peter, "ho pisw mou" "Get behind Me." So the whole notion of walking along the path and following Jesus is apostolic in emphasis. It is language and imagery not to be regarded lightly.
As a result, when Jesus stoops down and begins to wash the disciples' feet He says to them, "What I do you do not understand now, but you will know after this"(St. John 13:7). What is He doing? How will they know? Jesus hints at the answer in verse 13 where He says, "You call me 'the teacher' and 'the Lord' and you speak well for I am. Therefore, if I, 'the Lord' and 'the teacher' was your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another." This is apostolic just as Christ's remarks to Peter in St. Mark 8 are apostolic.
Jesus is setting things in order. He is getting ready to die, and His love for His church is evident in the upper room. Washing the disciples' feet and then referring to Himself as teacher in verse 13 demonstrates that Jesus is connecting the washing of feet to that of the aspect of teacher. They are to do likewise in the future. The apostles will go forth and do as Jesus had done, which is to serve the church through teaching the apostolic message.
Though St. John doesn't give us a "last supper account," we can clearly see from the synoptics that Jesus is concerned for His church. He is putting things in order. The apostles are to do as Jesus has done. Their feet are clean due to Christ's washing, which is tantamount to Jesus sending them, "apostello." The word "apostle" is even used in verse 16. The disciples now with clean feet are just about ready to begin the apostolic ministry. Now that their feet are clean they will "hand down" (paradidomi) the teachings of Jesus to the world as if it were Jesus Himself who was doing the teaching. This is seen by Christ's words in verse 20.
They will stand in the stead and by the command of Christ and they will "observe all things just as Christ commanded"(St. Matthew 28:20). Jesus then goes on to preach His last sermon to them in St. John 14-16, words of great comfort to the apostles and those in the church today. Jesus then prays for His church in the famous prayer in chapter 17.
These chapters mount with increasing intensity for the apostolic ministry was drawing near. What would ushered it in? Christ's death on the cross. "It is finished," as Jesus breathed His last from the cross. The sins of the world had been atoned for, and all that was needed was for the church to use the gifts which Christ had given to His church--baptism, the proclamation of the gospel, and the Lord's Supper. The foot washing was basically saying, "be faithful." St. Paul says it another way in 1 Corinthians 11:2, "Now I praise you, brehtren, that you remember me in all things and *keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.*
Therein lies the apostolic way. Therein lies Christ's charge "if I, then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." In other words, do the Rabbinic thing and teach as I have taught you. Walk the road of Christ and be in the stead of Christ.
This brings comfort to the church today. When we sit in the Divine Service and we hear the gospel lection proclaimed and absolution pronounced upon us, we should be hearing Christ. We should also realize that this proclamation is the fruit and the gift of Christ given to the apostles to walk as Christ had walked and "hand down" the teachings of Christ, for these teachings are salvific and life-giving.