In being asked by a lawyer (in this Sunday's gospel: Matthew 22:34-46) which commandment in the law is the greatest, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself". Now, consider this squarely. It sounds great. Indeed, we refer to this as the "Golden Rule". But, really, how does one do this on a daily basis? I honestly wonder some days. You know, those days when getting out of bed is a bit more laborious, when there is less spring in the step, when heaviness fills the heart, when the challenges seem to outweigh the joys-in other words, when the inclination might be to say, "Sorry neighbor, today is not a very self-loving day. So, I'll give you a shot next week".
Is this a call from Jesus to rally the inner troops, to muster what we can, to grin and bear it, to fake it until we give the impression that we make it? Or, is Jesus suggesting more, that is, that He would like to bestow a gift? Jesus knows the difficulty that we can have in loving ourselves, and He never simply tests us. He promises to make possible what He asks... Are we ready to receive the gift of His love?
Yours in Him,
The two Jewish parties most opposed to Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians, join forces in this Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 22:15-22). Indeed, they do so on two occasions in the gospels, following the two great ways in which Jesus touches His people: healing and, here, teaching. The alliance between the Pharisees and the Herodians is complicated because they had very different perspectives on relations with civil authority in Rome. Despite their differences, however, they are able join forces. It’s strange how a common enemy can “unite”. We see this in our own political arena and in our world.
Their common endeavor is obviously not noble. Jesus, aware that they “plotted to entrap” him, is clever in his response: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus’ response cleverly reaches both the Pharisees and the Herodians, right where they are, such that “they were amazed.”
More than cleverly getting the Pharisees and the Herodians to “shut up”, however, Jesus reveals extraordinary truths. Jesus suggests that his presence does not eliminate that of civil authority, an authority legitimate not because well exercised but because, as Jesus says, in the gospel of John, chapter 18, verse 36, when on trial before Pontius Pilate, His “kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus reveals that the kingdom of God respects human reality, from which it is distinct (not separate).
This is otherwise captured by a simple theological truth, to which most Christian denominations subscribe: the work of the Redeemer respects the work of the Creator. The renewing work wrought by Christ respects the natural order come from the Creator. The “structure” of who we are as human beings is not changed by our encounter with God in Christ. Something deep inside us is touched by God, and we are granted access to the mystery of God. But we must still, while guided by God in a way that is deeply respectful of human freedom, ask our own questions, make our own personal and political choices, plan our own futures, decorate our own homes, exercise our own bodies, and repair our own mistakes. Divine intimacy does not eliminate human autonomy and responsibility. What a daunting, liberating and amazing journey: held in intimacy by a God whose love knows no bounds, yet free, invited to choose. I suppose true love truly does presuppose freedom…
This Sunday, we continue our reading of Matthew's gospel, 22:1-14. Like last week's gospel, there is more killing of servants-this time, when they are sent to gather the guests for the king's banquet. In the end, the doors are thrown wide open to anyone who would like to attend, but one guest comes ill-prepared. "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?" the king asks. The poor fellow is then bound and cast into the darkness. Had I been there, I would have said, "Relax on the dress code!" or "You could have just asked him to leave." Bizarrely excessive, n'est-ce pas?
The audience is particularly important to situate. Jesus is addressing the chief priests and elders, entrusted an important responsibility regarding the Chosen People, who have transformed authority (which is service of the common good) into power (which is control of the common good). I believe Jesus is addressing the issue of presumption and attitudes of entitlement. The wedding robe symbolizes the appropriate inner attitude in one invited to the celebration of God. What is the appropriate inner attitude? It would seem: awe and humble gratitude. None of us has a right to God, to Jesus. The invitation is gratuitous...
The expulsion of the guest does not suggest that God is prone to bursts of rage. It reveals the Father's vulnerability with respect to the Son, Whom He gives to us. "For God so loved the world that He gave his only son." (John 3:16). When you give what is dearest to you, you are vulnerable. And, if ever someone takes the gift for granted and/or presumes the gift is theirs, you are understandably hurt and angered. The expulsion of the inappropriately dressed fellow reveals that there is no room for anything unloving in the presence of the One who is love.
What is our inner attitude regarding the encounter and celebration of Christ? Do we come to church and seek Him with awe and humble gratitude? We are talking about attitudes not emotions. It is not about feeling awe and gratitude. It is about focusing the eyes of one's heart in faith so as to know that God is awesome. Ask God to reveal Himself to you. Yearn for divine intimacy. Awe and humble gratitude will emerge...
With you in our Lord,
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
This is a cri de coeur, in which St. Paul says it all. This passage from his letter to the Christian community in Philippi, Greece (Sunday’s second reading: Philippians 3:4-14) is also addressed to us. Paul speaks with tremendous conviction and hope that others, that we discover what he has discovered (and, he does so from prison, no less!). This is experiential knowledge. If Jesus, the Christ, is truly God become human, then relationship with Him is like no other. The value of knowing him—experientially, in relationship—surpasses everything. Paul’s imprisonment, because for the sake of this Jesus, does not diminish his joy. Au contraire. And, he cannot but share his joy.
To experience a love that is greater and deeper than the circumstances of our life: this is the invitation. Do we accept the invitation? Do we have this experiential knowledge? It is a gift.
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7: 7-8)
Yours in Christ,
From the desk of the Rector