Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Chief Example of Pastoral Care

Maybe you have that one parishioner who is always breathing down your neck, looking for you to slip up and make a mistake. Maybe he or she constantly reminds you of your mistakes. Maybe you are even told that you just don't make for a good pastor. Or, maybe there are those people who tend to lead you into vice and sin. They tempt you in ways that are contrary to the Christian life. If this is you, remember you are not alone. Not only does each one of us struggle with sin, temptation, and the constant nudges from Satan and his own, but we constantly need a way out from the snares of Satan. How can we best deal with the snares of Satan?

Jesus went through it. St. Matthew 4:1-11 is one account of Christ's temptation in the desert. I will just touch on it briefly. As we know, Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and nights. It is important to remember that it was the pneumatos, the Spirit, Who led Jesus into the desert. This was none other than the Holy Spirit. We are told in the narrative that Jesus was lead (anaxtha) up into the desert by the Spirit. St. Luke uses agw in another form. This is contrasted to St. Mark's verb, which is ekballo, a violent sort of driving, denoting a violent movement. The picture we get in St. Matthew's account is one that is more gentle, not quite so crass.

In some ways, St. Matthew's verb choice seems more appropriate for the situation. Jesus has just been baptized by John and the Holy Spirit descends and Christ begins His trek to the cross. What is worth pondering for tonight is what Jesus demonstrates for the pastor who stands in the stead of Christ in the parish. Satan tempts Jesus three times and even quotes scripture against Jesus in one of the temptations.

How dare Satan that he would tempt the Lord and belittle Him so. Why, the devil was so clearly wrong, certainly Jesus, Who is the very Word Himself, would have been justified in becoming angry and casting Satan down from the heights of the temple. "Destroy the wretch now," we would shout. Jesus did not reveal the power of His might, however. He only brought forth the precepts of scripture.

Jesus was giving all spiritual fathers an example of godly wisdom. Jesus, while being God, was also showing us how the flesh of His holy ones should behave. Though it may not be readily apparent, Jesus is showing us the book of Proverbs in action. Proverbs is full of very important instruction. It is our teacher in the classroom of study, but Jesus shows it to us in the world, in demonstration. Jesus is living out Proverbs 15:1-2: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishly."

What is more? Jesus is hungry. He is in need, He is weak. In the midst of the tempter, Jesus simply speaking the words of Scripture to refute Satan, we learn that we too must suffer for a time against our tempters with scripture on our side and nothing else. The spiritual father must be ready to answer with meekness the words of our Lord and God. Whether it be a penitent coming to make confession to their pastor or whether it is your greatest antagonist coming to tempt you into really casting him or her down with Satan, you are to go forth in meekness and humility, breathing the scriptures because they are your own.

Why do this? How miserable we sometimes become in the midst of adversity and temptation. What is to be gained? Jesus overcame His enemy not be destroying him but by suffering him for a time. What we find in this narrative is Jesus is led somewhat gently into the desert being attended by the Holy Spirit, and it ends by the angels attending to Jesus.

Much can be gained by this text. Just to make the clarification for all the knee-jerk Lutherans who try to "out-orthodox" each other, I will say that the first thing to be learned by the text is that this encounter is the foretaste of Christ's victory over Satan on the cross. Having said that, the scriptures are so deep and teach us so much, that we can gain a great understanding not only of Christ but also of the character and nature of the church.

The Spiritual father teaches in so many ways and being in the stead of Christ he somtimes teaches the most when his humility and meekness go hand in hand with what he teaches.

Truly, it is not easy suffering for a length of time, but we stand to learn much as the fiery darts of the tempter are thrown our way if we breathe Christ through the scriptures and from the Eucharist. When those times of suffering have ended, not only will the angels come to diakonoun us, but Jesus Himself is tending to us continually and giving us His peace and strength.

The Lord grant all of you spiritual fathers that peace now and always,

+Fr. Chadius