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First Week of Lent, Saturday
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus’ description of the Father’s impartial love takes its inspiration from the sun and the rain— natural phenomena devoid of passion, and blind to merits and demerits. Divine love energizes all living beings regardless of their response to their Creator. Even the “enemies” of God exist because he continually sustains them in being.
In the light of Christ’s merciful words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), it becomes clear that his clashes with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests were manifestations of divine love. No malediction ever issued from his lips.
Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you?Psalm 139:21-22
Those who rise against you, do I not loathe?
With fierce hatred I hate them,
enemies I count as my own.
Jesus, the Son of David, knew and prayed the “cursing” Psalms in the Hebrew tradition, but showed by his life the ultimate end of the psalmist’s prayer. Christ drove all curses into himself on the Cross, assumed blame for human sin, and expired with benediction on his lips.
The second Adam reversed the finger-pointing of the first couple in the garden of Eden who blamed the serpent, the woman, and ultimately God. Jesus, though blameless and innocent, assumed the punishment of the lawbreaker and transformed culpability into love.
Pure, disinterested love desires the good of others without distinction, seeing all persons as one in Christ. St. Maximos the Confessor writes:
The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion knows no distinction between his own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. Having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of man, he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all. For him there is “neither Greek nor Jew, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free man, but Christ is everything in everything” (Gal 3:28).1
Sunrise and sunset,
Showers and snow
Of friend and foe.
Both just and unjust
Are rolled from clay—
Pearl of God’s play.
God sees all children
As his own Son,
Victims and villains
On the Cross won.
1 St. Maximos the Confessor, Chapters on Love II.30.
First Week of Lent, Thursday
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Matthew 7:7-8
Asking, seeking, and knocking presuppose desire. In some wisdom traditions, desire is the root of suffering and must be extinguished in order to be liberated, but in the protological account of human origins in Genesis, desire is presented as primordial—an energy that must be directed in accordance with the Law of Knowledge and Life to blossom into godlikeness.
The serpent’s temptation to Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit contained a partial truth: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Jesus said to the Jews, quoting Psalm 82:6, Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? (John 10:34)
Early Christian writers like St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Gregory of Nazianzus believed that Adam and Eve were created in an intermediate state, with the potentiality for deification and infallible knowledge hinging on obedience to the commandment.
St. Ephrem writes:
For had the serpent been rejected, along with the sin, they would have eaten of the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge would not have been withheld from them any longer; from the one they would have acquired infallible knowledge, and from the other they would have received immortal life. They would have acquired divinity in humanity; and had they thus acquired infallible knowledge and immortal life they would have done so in this body.1
St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes:
This being He placed in paradise… And He gave him a Law, as material for his free will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the Tree of Knowledge; not, however, because it was evil from the beginning when planted; nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to men—let not the enemies of God wag their tongues in that direction, or imitate the serpent. But it would have been good if partaken of at the proper time; for the Tree was, according to my theory, Contemplation, which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter upon; but which is not good for those who are still somewhat simple and greedy; just as neither is solid food good for those who are yet tender and have need of milk.2
The primordial desire to “be like gods” is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who deified Adam by his Incarnation, obedience unto death, and resurrection.
Asking, seeking, and knocking is the process of walking hand in hand with the Father as his child in his only-begotten Son, and receiving freely the fruit of wisdom and life from the Spirit.
If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”Luke 11:13
The syllabic count in the following poem adds up to fifty—the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church. ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK are 3, 4, and 5 letter words, and their respective stanzas consist of 3, 4, and 5 syllable lines.
32 + 42 + 52 = 50 syllables
Son of God,
King and Priest
Strolls with Abba—
Eating fruit of
Knowledge and Life.
Kingdom of Heaven,
Come, Holy Spirit,
Kingdom come on Earth.
1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis II.23, in St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 214. St. Ephrem’s view is also found in the Palestinian Targum tradition at Genesis 3:22 and in Nemesius, On the Nature of Man 5. See Brock’s introduction (footnote 39).
2 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45.8.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter
Egō eimi ho artos tēs zōēs. I AM the Bread of Life.
After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus revealed his divine identity in the form of an I AM statement, hearkening back to the revelation of God’s name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14; LXX).
Food, the fundamental need of all sentient flesh, was the chief catalyst in the protological trial of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. A desire for something more that would satisfy a mysterious longing drove them to partake of the forbidden fruit. Brokenness, division, and unquenchable hunger and thirst followed in its wake. Toiling for food from cursed ground became Adam’s lot as he and his progeny entered the treadwheel of “dust to dust” (Genesis 3:19).
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger…John 6:35
The first persons who “come” (erchomai) and seek Jesus in the New Testament are the Magi:
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”Matthew 2:2
…and whoever believes in me will never thirst.John 6:35
“Believe me,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”John 4:13-14
But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe.John 6:36
“Seeing” (horaó) and “believing” (pisteuó) involve more than the retina. The Magi “saw” the star and the child, and worshipped him (Matthew 2:10-11). John the Beloved came (erchomai) to the empty tomb, and saw (horaó) and believed (pisteuó) (John 20:8).
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me…John 6:37
What does it mean to “give” (didómi) in the eternal Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Jesus repeated this verb over and over again during the Last Supper Discourse:
When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
“I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you gave me is from you, because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours…John 17:1-9
Something or someone “given” (didómi) is a precious gift from one person to another. The Father has entrusted “everything” (pas) to the Son, and the Son will not “cast out” or “reject” (ekballo) any who come (erchomai) to him (John 6:37).
Jesus finally enfolds the “all” and “everything” (pas) given to him in the glory of the Triune Love.
and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.John 17:10
In the Bread of Life discourse, which harmonizes with the Last Supper Discourse (where bread is broken), Jesus constantly attributes the origin of his mission to the Father.
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day.John 6:38-39
The Father and the Son act with a single, divine will. Human free will comes into play in both bread discourses as Jesus mourns the possibility of “losing” (apollumi) any of those given to him.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled.John 17:12
The mystery of free will is… a mystery…
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”John 6:38-39
The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Magi, St. John and all the saints who “came,” “saw,” and “believed” are shining guideposts in our journey to Bethlehem, the “house of bread.”
Friday After Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.Genesis 3:6
The original harmony in the garden of Eden disintegrated following the movement of disordered desires. Bewitching the senses and the mind, the seductive fruit of the forbidden tree ensnared the first couple.
Paradisal indivisibility suffered a triple collapse as self, God, and others externalized as estranged entities.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are prescribed as medicine for wayfarers to remedy the triple disharmony. Fasting disciplines the whole person with regard to appetite. Prayer finds God in the hidden recesses of the heart. Almsgiving restores fraternal charity and communion.
The prophet Isaiah warns his people not to turn fasting into an end in itself or use it for display.
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose,Isaiah 58:5
a day to afflict oneself?
To bow one’s head like a reed,
and lie upon sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Authentic fasting is hidden and bears fruit in charity to our neighbors.
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:Isaiah 58:6
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are as inseparable as person, God, and neighbor. We need all three for healing:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,Isaiah 58:8a
and your wound shall quickly be healed.
Love of God and neighbor wells like a fountain from the center of the Spirit-filled person.
And you shall be like a watered garden,Isaiah 58:11b
like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.
At the eschatological wedding feast, no one will fast because “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
The Bridegroom celebrated the brief span of life allotted to him on earth to be with his Bride in the flesh, giving us a glimpse of the divine mirth and affection:
Then the disciples of John approached him and said, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.Matthew 9:14-15
Cracks in the cosmos caused
By crunching of the fruit
Requires a triple cure
To cleanse the heart’s core root.
Fasting heals the person;
Prayer finds God within.
Almsgiving loves neighbors,
Quashing the power of sin.
Person, God and neighbor—
Cosmos in Trinity—
Cured by consuming Christ,
The LORD God said:
“It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
We usually rush on when we hear these words to the creation of Eve, who becomes “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” for Adam, and the human story begins.
But the Genesis account we read today and a medieval artist (above) remind us that God first “formed out the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man… but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” (Genesis 2,19 ff)
Adam signals to God these new creatures are not enough, but does he dismiss them altogether for Eve? Whether they realize it or not, the two will not be alone on this planet. Besides caring for each other, their destiny is to care for the creatures Adam names. They’re their partners too and share this common home.