Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Diakonia and Suffering

This particular musing is for the Christian who suffers. It is for the pastor who fights the good fight and is persecuted for the work he is doing. All of us have a common response to hardship and suffering: we hate it. We want it to disappear, and nothing is more disheartening than getting a swift kick for trying to do things the right way--the way of the church catholic. The pastor bears a particular burden that is often associated with the office in which God has placed him.

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).

+Fr. Chadius

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The New Testament Nature of "One Sent" St. Matthew 8

I would like to remind the readers of this blog that the musings posted are in no way to be considered exhaustive treatments of the Scriptures. Certainly there are things that could be added to the arguments at hand. Doctrine is like a wagon wheel. Each spoke is a different aspect of the doctrinal issue at hand. All spokes go to the center of the wheel to support it. Take one spoke out of the wheel and the wheel is weakened. The posts on this blog are merely musings on individual spokes in order that the scriptures may be illumined. The scriptures are meant to be looked at in detail, for in the detail is where the magnificence of God's word shines bright. This particular piece seeks to examine where in the Bible it is found that the pastor forgives sins in the stead and by the command of Christ.

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.

+Fr. Chadius