Monthly Archives: October 2020

Walking like Christ

Christ Pantocrator, 13th century Serbian icon

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Luke 14:1, 7-11

“One on tiptoe cannot stand” (Lao Tzu).1

Even with special ballet training, medical experts say that dancing en pointe for extensive periods can cause severe injury and foot damage. Blisters, calluses, broken nails, sprained ankles, fractures, inflammation, pinched nerves and other complications may result. Standing or walking on tiptoes is not recommended for everyday life.

Lao Tzu’s verse, “One on tiptoe cannot stand,” is an image of pride and arrogance. Jesus also wanted to relieve the spiritual toes of his contemporaries by showing them how to walk humbly and take the lowest place.

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table” (Luke 14:1, 7-10).

The way up is down. As the Son of God emptied himself and took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7), we must empty ourselves and let the Holy Spirit fill us with his fruits to find peace and joy (Galatians 5:22-23). Christ is our pattern and roadmap to eternal beatitude. 

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Lao Tzu’s second verse reads, “One astride cannot walk,” an echo of the American idiom, “Get off your high horse!” 

You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
and what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

-GMC

1 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translated by John C. H. Wu.

The Love of a Mother Hen

Fra Angelico, Detail of the Crucifixion (ca.1437-46)

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31). 

From the bare text alone, it is difficult to determine the true motive of this warning from “some  Pharisees.” Interpretations range from friendly and good-willed to guileful and hostile.1 The latter seems more likely since they approach Jesus as a group. In the exceptional cases of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, and Nicodemus, a Pharisee, Jesus is approached alone and even at night for fear of their peers (Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; John 19:38; John 3:2). It took a lot of courage to stand alone against majority opinion.

Prophets have had to escape violent rulers for good reasons. David hid from Saul (I Samuel 19:1-17) and Elijah fled from Jezebel’s vengeful wrath (I Kings 19:1-4). But Jesus marched onward in the face of Herod’s threats.  

He replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:32-33). 

The crafty, fox-like Herod (alópéx) had no power over Jesus whose only goal was to do the Father’s will. Jesus sought no overthrow of earthly kingdoms, but prepared hearts for the kingdom of heaven. His kingship was not of this world, his army consisted of “lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3), and his greatest weapon was love even unto death on the Cross. 

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus had prophesied (John 2:19). Destruction and construction must take place in the holy city Jerusalem, the center of temple worship and culture.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Luke 13:34)

Jerusalem is an address to the entire people of Israel, as in Jeremiah’s lament: “To what can I compare you—to what can I liken you—O daughter Jerusalem?” (Lamentations 2:13) Jesus compared himself to a mother hen who shelters her children under her wings. Against all evolutionary instinct, the divine hen does not run away from the ravenous fox. “Survival of the fittest” is transcended by kenotic suffering, death, and resurrection. 

Behold, your house will be abandoned. But I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35).

“A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me,” Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper (John 16:16), echoing these final words to the Pharisees. The fox will kill the hen, leaving the chicks abandoned for “a little while,” but for all who repent in the name of Jesus Christ and return to the Father, “your grief will become joy… your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you” (John 6:16-22). 

St. Cyril of Alexandria reads the greeting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” as a prediction of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion (Matthew 21:9). St. Augustine, Theophylact, and Bede interpret the saying, originally from Psalm 118:26, as referring to Jesus’ post-resurrection glory.2

From the divine perspective, the house of Israel and Jerusalem is universalized to include the whole human race. So long as God continues to be stoned and killed in the hearts of human persons, spiritual desolation ensues. The “time” to welcome the Lord into our hearts is today  (Hebrews 3:15). 

-GMC

1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. conjectures that these Pharisees “are depicted giving Jesus sage advice; these at least are well disposed toward him.” He finds support in other modern commentators: “Indeed, J. B. Tyson (‘Jesus and Herod Antipas,’ 245) plausibly argues for the historicity of this incident from the fact that Pharisees appear here not as antagonists of Jesus but as friends.” See The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985, p. 1030.

William Barclay writes: “There may have been six bad Pharisees for every good one but this passage shows that even amongst the Pharisees there were those who admired and respected Jesus” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 13:31-35).

On the other hand, the majority of classic Protestant commentaries of the last three centuries hold that these Pharisees had hypocritical and malicious intentions, and were possibly in league with Herod and Herodias in delivering the warning. These commentaries are all in the public domain:

Charles John Ellicott, Joseph Benson, Albert Barnes, Matthew Poole, John Gill, Heinrich Meyer, W. Robertson Nicoll (The Expositor’s Greek New Testament), F. W. Farrar (Gospel of Luke, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges), John Albert Bengel (Bengel’s Gnomon of the New Testament), Joseph Exell (The Pulpit Commentary).

Patristic commentary is sparse on this verse, but St. Cyril of Alexandria finds these Pharisees ill-disposed toward Jesus: “Likely to lose their office of leaders of the people and already fallen and expelled from their authority over them and deprived of their profits—for they were fond of wealth, and covetous, and given to lucre—they made pretense of loving him, and even drew near, and said, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you’” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 100).

2 From St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Luke 13:35:

AUGUSTINE. (de Cons. Ev. ubi sup.) But as Luke does not say to what place our Lord went from thence, so that He should not come except at that time, (for when this was spoken He was journeying onward until He should come to Jerusalem), He means therefore to refer to that coming of His, when He should appear in glory.

THEOPHYLACT. For then also will they unwillingly confess Him to be their Lord and Saviour, when there shall be no departure hence. But in saying, Ye shall not see me until he shall come, &c. does not signify that present hour, but the time of His cross; as if He says, When ye have crucified Me, ye shall no more see Me until I come again.

BEDE. Ye shall not see, that is, unless ye have worked repentance, and confessed Me to be the Son of the Father Almighty, ye shall not see My face at the second coming.

Citizens of a New World

Simone Martini (c. 1284-1344), St. Simon and St. Jude, National Gallery of Art

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16

Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

From heaven’s perspective we are all exiles far from home, refugees in the same boat—the saving ark of Christ—sailing through this vale of tears (1 Peter 3:18-22). Adoption into the family of God by baptism makes no distinctions of race, class, gender, passport or visa. 

The pilgrim Church is our home away from home, a center of hospitality for strangers/foreigners (xenos) and sojourners/aliens (paroikos) returning to their motherland in the heart of the Father. 

The Son of God became the brother of every human person, uniting all races and nations into one family. The Body of Christ is the new and indestructible temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2:19-21).

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Luke 6:12-16

Jesus spent an all-night vigil with the Father and the Holy Spirit in preparation for the call of the Apostles, who with the prophets would form the foundation of the eternal and indivisible temple of God. 

On October 28 we celebrate the feast of two foundation stones, St. Simon the Zealot and St. Jude. Lit by the Spirit’s transforming fire, Saint Simon widened his nationalistic zeal to universal scope and joined St. Peter the fisherman in catching the globe in their net. Nothing definite is known about St. Jude, but tradition has made him the patron saint of impossible causes.

Jesus’ original desire that all may be one as a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” is surely an “impossible cause” that can be entrusted to Saints Simon and Jude (John 17:21). They join heaven’s throng in a continual vigil for our unity as citizens of a country not of this world.

-GMC

The Tree of Grace

Parable of the Mustard Seed. Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Ephesians 5:21-33; Luke 13:18-21

In challenging times when the world seems to be falling apart, a tiny mustard seed of faith is more powerful than all negative forces combined. 

Mathematics, the art of the quantifiable, is inapplicable to the spiritual realm. One holy saint has more leverage with heaven than millions who are rebellious or indifferent. 

Thus God listened to Abraham’s plea on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16:33). He listened to Moses who interceded for the worshippers of the golden calf (Exodus 32:11-14). In Israel’s battle against Amalek, not military strategy or battalions, but the arms of Moses continually raised in prayer wrought victory (Exodus 17:11). 

In history’s darkest hour, when God was pronounced “dead” on the hill of Golgotha, Mary, the Mother of God, Mary of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and John the Beloved stood firm in faith at the foot of the Cross (John 19:25-27). From the Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost to the present time, the mustard seed of faith and grace has been growing in spite of hostility and skepticism. 

The Holy Spirit living and active in the tabernacles of the saints is the seed and leaven of the Church.

Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard  seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened” (Luke 13:18-21).

The Spirit works like leaven in hidden and mysterious ways, preparing the Bride for the wedding feast of heaven. Christ the Bridegroom “loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the Church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). 

We join the saints and the flowering tree of grace by prayer and charity.

-GMC