Sunday, November 30, 2008

This Crazy WORLD #15

I'm sorry that I haven't written much lately. I had the whole week off work this past week, and I thought I would have so much time for blogging, reading, jogging, and doing other things that I never seem to have enough time to do when I am working. Unfortunately, I ended up having even LESS time than usual for my hobbies. Sigh...

Here are some highlights from the "Quick Takes" section of the November 15/22 issue of WORLD magazine.

Sorry for the inconvenience

Even British burglars have manners—sort of. Days after frightening a 91-year-old woman during a home invasion, the burglar sent an apology note along with a bouquet of flowers to her Halifax home, about 200 miles north of London. In the note, the robber explained he believed the residence to be empty when he broke in around 4 a.m. on Oct. 9. Police said the perpetrator left the home empty-handed, but have asked him to come forward with his identity, not just a floral arrangement.

Contraband sand

Many travel to the Caribbean just for the white sand beaches. Now some are leaving with it. Authorities in nations throughout the Caribbean are bemoaning sand thieves who steal truckloads of beach sand used in construction of new developments. Builders favor the fine powdery sand for its usefulness to create smooth plaster finishes. At one private beach in Jamaica, thieves stole roughly 706,000 cubic feet of sand in 100 truckloads, endangering mangroves and a limestone forest. The haul was valued at more than $5 million. Jamaican police suspect government officials were involved.

Playing horse

A horse is a horse, of course, unless that horse belongs to 55-year-old Allyson B. Young of Meddybemps, Maine. At least in her mind, she and her horse are part of the same herd. That's the argument Young made to a Calais District Court judge in October after a state animal welfare official removed Angel, Young's poorly-cared-for saddlebred mare, after discovering the horse to be on the brink of starvation. In court, Young, who admitted she could not pay to care for the animal, argued against the separation, saying that she and Angel had become one herd and demanding the court find a suitable home where they could be together. State attorneys pleaded for Young to seek help from the state's department of health and human services.

Officially illegal

Nineteen-year-old Gregory Griggs' shirt alone may have caused police to suspect him of nefarious behavior. After being tipped off by an informant, police raided a Fort Mitchell, Ky., hotel room and caught Griggs with packaged marijuana, scales, and cash. Police charged him with trafficking the drug. The slogan on his shirt, captured on film in his mugshot: "It's not illegal unless 
you get caught."

Billionaire bashed?

If real estate mogul Donald Trump isn't currently a billionaire, a lawsuit he filed in a New Jersey court just might do the trick. But two big "ifs" stand in the way. First, Trump will actually have to convince a jury that a book that claimed his actual self-worth to be between $150 million and $250 million sufficiently damaged the self-proclaimed billionaire's "brand and reputation." Second, in the event Trump wins his defamation lawsuit against Timothy L. O'Brien, he may have trouble collecting the stated $5 billion in damages from the New York Times reporter.

Guard dog

When fire broke out in a house in Melbourne, Australia, one creature leapt into action even before firefighters arrived. A dog named Leo stood guard over a litter of kittens as flames engulfed the home. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they quickly found the Jack Russell terrier and a cardboard box filled with newborn kittens before rushing them to safety. Outside, firefighters administered oxygen and a heart massage to Leo, who had lost consciousness from smoke inhalation. Firefighters revived Leo, who now has a new nickname: Smoky.

Talk is not cheap

Combine a nanny-state bureaucracy and a politically correct culture and what do you get? Administrators for the United Kingdom's National Health Service have paid more than $360,000 in case Laotians or Cherokee Indians need translation services to access the taxpayer-funded health system. Official records reveal no Cherokees live in England while only one Laotian lives there. The costly service also ensures NHS operators can communicate in Esperanto, the failed language construct.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grace, Faith, and Works (Eph. 2:8-10) - Part Two

Icon of St. James Adelphotheos, who wrote: "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:26)

First of all, in verse 8, St. Paul says “it is by grace that you have been saved.” What exactly is grace? Is it, as I used to explain to my listeners, nothing more than God’s unmerited favor toward us? If so, then it is primarily a feeling of pity and compassion that God feels toward us. It is God giving us what we don’t deserve. But this is not how the earliest Christians understood grace. For the early Church fathers, grace is not merely unmerited favor—an attitude of God toward the believer. Rather, grace is the very uncreated energy of God himself. It is power that God gives to those who believe in him. And it is bestowed not merely through an attitude of faith; rather, it comes to us through faithful taking of the sacraments. Grace does more than change a person’s standing before God; it also changes the very nature of the person, giving them the possibility to be conformed to the likeness of Christ.

Next, St. Paul tells us that God’s grace comes to us through faith. But what is faith? I used to think that faith was a one-time decision to trust in Christ as my Lord and Savior. All I had to do was make that decision, and I would be guaranteed eventual entrance into heaven. But soon I began to question that. Could I really just make a mental decision to admit that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and be guaranteed eternal life, no matter what else I do? I soon realized that this is not the overall teaching of the New Testament, let alone that of the earliest Christian writers. Faith, for the New Testament writers, is not merely a one-time deal, but a lifelong process. Even the Greek word “pistis” (usually translated as “faith”) itself also means “faithfulness” or “fidelity.” St. Paul often compared faith to running a race. Obviously, no one ever wins a race simply by starting it. You have to keep running all the way until the finish line.

Finally, St. Paul states that salvation is “not of works, so that no one can boast.” Now it is certainly true that no one can earn his way into heaven. If we do not believe and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior, none of our good deeds will bring us eternal life. But does this mean that works play no role whatsoever in salvation? Is salvation truly through faith alone? Far from it!

But at first glance, today’s passage seems to teach just that. After all, doesn’t St. Paul say, “not of works?” But to really understand what St. Paul is saying here, we need to keep two things in mind.

First of all, the term “works” in St. Paul’s writings, when contrasted to the word “faith,” always refers to the works of the Mosaic Law, not to good works in general. Keep in mind that the main heresy that St. Paul addressed in his epistles was the teaching of the Judaizers, who taught that in order to be saved, one had to not only accept Jesus as Messiah, but also submit to the entire Mosaic Law. St. Paul argued against this heresy in many of his epistles, including Galatians, where he says justification is not by “the works of the Law.” Here he only says “works” and not specifically “the works of the Law.” Could the Apostle be referring to any good works in general? If he were, then why would he have told the Romans, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:7-8).

St. Paul, the other New Testament authors, and the Lord Jesus himself all taught that salvation is indeed by faith, but not by faith alone. In fact, the only place in the Bible where the phrase “faith alone” is used is James 2:24: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” So, how do we reconcile this apparent problem? The key is in St. James’ saying “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). So you see, faith and works are not distinct realities, but rather are two sides of the same coin. True faith in Christ always includes works. Therefore works are necessary for salvation because faith is necessary for salvation.

I realize that I have just barely scratched the surface of this topic, but time limitations forbid me from going deeper. I would like to mention one more thing: it is a little off-topic, but it is important nonetheless. In verse 10, St. Paul says that “we are His workmanship.” The Greek word translated “workmanship” is poeima, which was used by secular Greek authors to describe a carefully crafted work of art, like a great sculpture, a painting, or a piece of literature. It could also be translated as “masterpieces.” Each of us has been created in God’s image, lovingly and carefully crafted by our Maker. By our sin, we mar the image of God in us, but that image is still there. And having lovingly formed us, our Creator loves us more than we can imagine. So when you are feeling down, when the world tries to convince you that you are worthless, go home and look in the mirror and say “you are God’s masterpiece.” As the bumper sticker says, “God made me, and God don’t make no junk!”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Grace, Faith, and Works (Eph. 2:8-10)

We had a special presentation at St. Joseph's yesterday, and as a result, the adult Sunday School class did not meet. So, I am now a week ahead on notes. Because of this, I will probably take a week off from doing my notes on St. John's Gospel. Instead, I'll post some other stuff. Here is the first part of the sermon that I preached yesterday. It's quite basic. Nothing special, but I pray that it will be helpful to you just the same.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

I have some good news for you. Do you think you could use a little good news? The good news is this: heaven is a free gift. That’s right--it’s absolutely free! We can’t earn or deserve it. For you see, the Bible says that “by grace that you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

This is the way that I used to kick off a canned Gospel presentation that I learned in seminary. Frustrated by my inability to explain what my fellow seminarians called “the plan of salvation,” I enrolled in a program in my church called Evangelism Explosion. Over time, I memorized the feature piece of the program, the Gospel presentation. And week after week, one or two others and I would go to the homes of church visitors, planning to share the presentation with them. When no one was home, my group and I would go to shopping malls, convenience stores, or other public places. Sometimes, we would even just start knocking on randomly chosen doors. But no matter where we were, our game plan was the same. After a few minutes of chit-chat, in which we supposedly “earned the right to be heard,” one of us would launch into the presentation by telling the person(s) with whom we were speaking that we had good news for them. Forty-five or so minutes later, we would challenge them to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and thus be “saved.”

Occasionally, we hit pay dirt: the person we were sharing with would admit that he was a sinner and that he needed Jesus in his life. Sometimes, she would even break into tears and make a very emotional profession of faith. Then she would pray the “sinner’s prayer,” after which we just knew she was saved. After all, salvation is by faith alone, right?

But nearly every time we snatched a perishing sinner from the jaws of Hell, we noticed that something peculiar would happen. We would make an appointment to come back and see them the next week, which they would agree to with enthusiasm. But when we actually returned a week later, they were nearly always gone or suddenly unable to receive us. When we did see them, we would ask them if we could come back again, they would usually say (in essence) “don’t call me; I’ll call you.” And we would never see them again.

Later, when I was on the mission field, I kept having similar experiences over and over again. I was very good at leading people to make decisions, but I rarely saw any lasting fruit. At first, these experiences convinced me that memorized Gospel presentations, no matter how slick or persuasive they are, seldom if ever result in eternal life, at least not in 45 minutes! But later, after seeing convert after convert fall away from their initial enthusiasm for Christ, I began to do the unthinkable for a Baptist. Yes, you guessed it: I began to question whether salvation really was by faith alone, at least by faith as I understood it—a one-time, once-for-all decision to follow Jesus.

And that brings us back to today’s Epistle passage, which to Protestants is the proof-text par excellence that salvation is by faith alone. After all, St. Paul clearly says “not by works,” doesn’t he? Tomorrow, we will examine what today’s passage says and what it does not say.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

I haven't written anything on the Longhorns lately, because after they lost to Texas Tech, they have played (and soundly beaten) two weak opponents, Baylor and Kansas. Nothing exciting. Yesterday, they had an open date. This Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), they will face (and almost certainly annihiliate) Texas A&M.

But the exciting news for all Longhorn fans is that yesterday, Texas Tech was crushed by OU 65-21. This means that Texas, who prior to that game was #3 in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series, the only ranking that really counts any more), has now moved up to #2, the spot formerly occupied by Tech. That means that as long as Texas doesn't lose to A&M or to their opponent in the Big 12 Championship game, they will play #1 Alabama in the BCS title game. That is, assuming Alabama doesn't lose either. It will definitely be interesting. Stay tuned...

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Trial (John 18:19-24)

Note: I have intentionally skipped verses 15-18 for now. I'll come back to them next week.

19 The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. 20 Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. 21 Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.”

22 And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Do You answer the high priest like that?”

23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”

24 Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Even though Annas was not actually serving as the high priest that year, St. John still refers to him by that title, because he had once held it (in the same way that we still refer to former presidents as “President Reagan,” “President Clinton,” etc.).

Annas opens the hearing by asking Jesus “about His disciples and His doctrine.” In doing so, he was not seeking information, for he already knew very well exactly what Jesus had been teaching, and who his disciples were. Rather, Annas was hoping to bait Jesus into saying something inflammatory or blasphemous, so that he could be quickly condemned. In Fr. Farley’s words, “he was looking for ammunition to use against Jesus” (306). Perhaps Jesus might say something that the Romans might see as treasonous.

But Jesus refuses to play the game. He instead points out what he knows that Annas already knows: He had spoken openly; his teaching had been public. Everyone knew the essence of his message (even if few fully understood it!). There was no need for Jesus to repeat it. If Annas would like a refresher course, let him ask those who had heard Jesus! And Jesus’ public teaching did not contain any talk of overthrowing Rome. In short, Jesus had no secret plans or hidden agendas.

As Fr. Farley states, “Such upfront and forthright refusal to be bullied did not go down well. It was hoped that a private interrogation before Annas, the power behind the Temple authorites, would cow the Nazarene or at least provoke Him into making some ill-advised reply. But Jesus was refusing to be bullied” (307). And, as a result of Jesus’ boldness of speech, one of the attendants slapped him across the face (Imagine the blasphemy involved in this act! Clearly he knew not what he did). Those who speak the truth often have to suffer for it.

The attendant “accuses Jesus of being disrespectful and insubordinate. It is ever thus. A bully cannot abide being stood up to” (Farley, 307).

Note Jesus’ reaction. He refuses to be intimidated. “Though slapped in hostility, He does not retaliate in anger, nor respond with hostility. He maintains His inner peace and composure and simply says, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, witness to the wrong, but if I have spoken well, why do you beat me?’ That is, he calls the erring attendant to account and challenges him to repent” (Farley, 307).

This is also how we should react to those who mistreat us.

Finally, Annas gives up, sending him to Caiaphas and the whole Sanhedrin. Perhaps they will have better luck in finding a way to condemn Jesus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Taken Before Annas (John 18:12-14)

12 Then the detachment of troops and the captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. 13 And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year. 14 Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.

First, let us look at the historical setting behind this passage.

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish high priest was appointed by the Romans. Anyone wanting to be high priest had to pay a large sum of money to the governor. Because of this, the Roman governor would typically depose each high priest after he had served one year, so as to have another regular source of income (this despite the fact that the high priest technically held a life term!).

Annas had once been high priest, as had five of his sons, but this year, his son-in-law Caiaphas held the office. But although Caiaphas held the office, Annas was the real power behind the throne. That is why Jesus was first taken to a former high priest rather than directly to the high priest. It seems that the Jewish rulers had already agreed to have Jesus first be brought to Annas. Annas no doubt agreed completely with Caiaphas’ statement that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people” (verse 14). And, in Fr. Farley’s words, “This being the case, it was apparent that no fair hearing could be expected that night. The death of Jesus had already been prearranged among the powers manipulating the Sanhedrin” (303).

St. John is the only evangelist who mentions this trial, which really seems to be more of a preliminary hearing, before Annas. The other Gospel writers only mention that Jesus was tried by the Great Sanhedrin (with Caiaphas presiding), condemned, and then sent to Pilate. St. John omits this second and main trial, stating only that “Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” in verse 24 and that “They led Jesus…from Caiaphas into the Praetorium” in verse 28. Again, St. John assumes that his readers are familiar with the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, so he doesn’t repeat the story, but rather fills in a gap, narrating the details of the hearing before Annas, which the other evangelists had omitted. But why include the details of the hearing before Annas? Fr. Farley suggests two reasons:

1. It provides the backdrop for Peter’s denials. In reality, these denials took place after Annas’ interrogation and during the trial before the full Sanhedrin. “This is to compare the inconstancy of Peter with the hostility of Christ’s foes, and to show how Christ was let down by everyone, friend and foe alike” (303).

2. The hearing before Annas portays Christ as more than the victim of circumstances (a theme that runs throughout St. John’s gospel). Whereas in the trial before Caiaphas, Jesus remained silent throughout and was beaten at the end, “John has less interest in showing Christ ast he passive victim than he has in revealing Him as maintaing a serene composure and control throughout. Christ’s interrogation before Annas was brief, but it was during this exchange that He more successfully defended Himself and resisted being bullied” (304).

I would add a third reason: because he could! Verse 15 tells us that John was able to get into the court of the high priest; he was the only one of the eleven to do so. He must have been able to hear the proceedings and thus give an eyewitness account.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Whom Do You Seek? (John 18:4-11)

4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”

5 They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. 6 Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Then He asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?”

And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

8 Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9 that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.”

10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

St. John begins the account of Jesus’ capture with another affirmation of Jesus’ complete foreknowledge of the coming events. Judas and the rest of the arresting party undoubtedly thought that they were going to surprise Jesus. Instead, they were themselves surprised when Jesus went out to them, meeting them at the entrance to the garden. They did not expect anyone to come out to them, least of all Jesus. In Fr. Farley’s words, “they seem to have expected Jesus to be hiding in some darkened corner, or at least seeking such a corner as He saw the approach of their torches, not striding forward boldly to meet them” (300). This is at least part of why they did not recognize him at first (undoubtedly the darkness also contributed to their lack of recognition)

Note that in verse 5, we have yet another of Jesus’ many theophanies. When the crowd said that they were seeking Jesus of Nazareth, he said literally ego eimi (I AM). Something about the way he said it, combined with their nervousness, caused them to be startled and unnerved, and they jumped backward, falling over each other.

After they hurriedly got up, gathering up their weapons and equipment, Jesus again asked them who they were seeking. Again they called for him, and again he affirmed his identity. Still, “in their confusion and fear, the arresting party did not collect itself to jump on Jesus. Rather, Jesus retained the initiative. He asked the questions, not they! It is almost as if He had to force them to arrest Him. By focusing on this detail of the arrest, St. John shows how Jesus’ arrest and death were indeed voluntary, and how He remained in command of the situation” (Farley, 300).

We see that in verse 8, “even to the end, His concern was not for Himself, but for His own. This is why Jesus asked them who they were looking for—He knew they would answer that they were looking for Him. By evoking this answer, the Lord could use it, as an utterance from their own mouths, to make them take Him alone and let the others go. They said they were looking for Jesus—here He was! Their business was with Him, not with the disciples” (300). Jesus’ protection of the disciples, as St. John points out in verse 9, was spoken of by him earlier in his prayer after the Mystical Supper (17:12).

In verse 5, St. John points out that Judas was standing with them. It was probably after Jesus’ second affirmation of his identity that Judas approached Jesus and gave him the kiss that the other evangelists mention (and which St. John characteristically omits). Even after Jesus’ twofold self-identification of himself, the arresting party felt that an identifying sign was necessary. Again, Fr. Farley explains it better than I could:

“Anyone could claim to be Jesus; how could they know that this confident stranger in the dark was not one of his disciples, falsely claiming to be Jesus so that the real Jesus could make his escape? So it was that Judas was required to make the identification. It was dark, with much movement and confusion. Pointing was not good enough. Judas was required to make the close physical contact so they could arrest the right man. This was, they thought, their one and only chance” (301).

Simon Peter had pledged his loyalty to Jesus at the Supper, and he had been crushed when Jesus had predicted his betrayal. Now as the soldiers began to seize his Lord, Peter decided to make good on his promise. He rushed to Jesus’ aid, probably intending to take off the head of the high priest’s slave; but since he was a better fisherman than a swordsman, he merely cut off his ear. St. John reveals his eyewitness knowledge and eye for detail by revealing the name of the servant (Malchus). Simon Peter’s loyalty to Jesus was certainly admirable, but, in Fr. Farley’s words, “In defending his Master with the sword, Peter was still assuming that Christ’s kingdom would be of this world…but this was not the case. The kingdom of love could never be promoted with violence” (302).

Monday, November 17, 2008

To The Garden (John 18:1-3)

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples over the Brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered. 2 And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples. 3 Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Jesus and the disciples now leave the place where they had been meeting (either the “Upper Room” where they had eaten the Passover meal, or a second undisclosed location, depending on how you interpret 14:31). If we assume along with Fr. Farley that they had stayed in the same place throughout Jesus’ final discourse, then they were most likely in the southwestern part of the city. They then headed northeast, passing the Temple district, and crossing the Kidron Brook, which was on the eastern side of town and was normally dry in summer. They ended their walk in the garden, which Matthew and Mark identify as Gethsemane.

Jesus needed a quiet place where he could spend a few hours in the evening prior to his passion in uninterrupted prayer. We know from the other Gospel writers of the struggle that Jesus endured as he prayed that evening (see, for instance, Luke 22:39-46). John, as he often does, omits these details, assuming that his reader is familiar with them. As Fr. Farley states, “John is more concerned to show that Christ’s arrest and death were voluntary, and that He was never at the mercy of circumstances. Narrating his inner struggle at this point would contribute nothing to this purpose…” (298).

The Garden of Gethsemane was a place where the disciples had gathered many times before. It may have belonged to a wealthy supporter of Jesus who offered it to him and the disciples as a place of retreat. In any case, Judas knew that this was the place where Jesus and the disciples were to go after the supper. The Jewish authorities certainly did not need Judas to lead them to Jesus. They could have arrested him at any time that he was in Jerusalem. But, to do so publicly would backfire because it would cause a riot. So, they needed Judas to help them find Jesus in a private place and arrest him there. Here’s how Fr. Farley summarizes the situation:

“[The Garden] was the perfect location for [Judas’] evil purpose, for it was private, and Jesus could be arrested with a minimum of outside attention or interference. Avoiding the attention of the Passover crowd was a big part of the total plan, for all Jesus’ foes feared that the festal crowd would riot if they tried to arrest Him publicly (see Mark 14:2). The garden’s enclosing walls would not only make it difficult for Him and his disciples to escape (for they were cornered in the enclosed space), but the walls would keep out the prying eyes of his supporters” (298).

Judas lead and guided the arresting party. The party included both Roman solders as well as Temple guards and some of their attendants. Obviously expecting armed resistance, they came well-armed with lanterns, torches and weapons. Fr. Farley thinks that they may have been expecting even more: “It was not just armed resistance from the disciples they feared (the disciples, after all, were fishermen, not trained soldiers), but the more intangible threat of confronting One who was known for His miraculous power” (299).

In other words, this was no ordinary person they were going after, and they knew it!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just for Fun on Sun(day)

Just for fun, here is one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Ladies and gentlemen, the Man in Black...Johnny Cash!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

That They May Be With Me (John 17:24-26)

24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Here the focus of Jesus’ prayer shifts back to the eleven disciples. We know this because Jesus is now speaking of “they also whom You gave Me,” which is the same phrase that he used for the disciples earlier in verse 12. Jesus loves the disciples greatly, and he cannot bear the thought of being separated from them forever. And so, he prays “that they …may be with Me where I am.”

Fr. Farley comments on the strength of the Lord’s desire that the eleven eventually be with him in heaven: “The word used for want is the Greek thelo, used not only for wanting and desiring, but also for willing. The use of the word here shows how strong Christ’s desire is to have His beloved disciples with Him as He reigns at the right hand of the Father” (295).

Note that this request of Jesus speaks against any belief in “once saved, always saved.” Certainly, any Evangelical Protestant would agree that by this point, all of the eleven disciples had believed in Jesus and received him as Lord and Savior. Some of their professions of faith are even recorded in the Gospels, including Peter’s (Matt. 16:16 and parallels) and Nathanael’s (John 1:49). Because they had “received Jesus,” then they must be saved, in Evangelical thinking, and they were assured a place in heaven after their deaths. But if this is true, then why should Jesus pray that they will be with him?

The answer is that each of the disciples had free will, and so each had the right to reject Christ, even after their initial profession of faith. Indeed, all of them did reject him after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, but thankfully, each of them did turn back to Him. But had they not, they would not have been with him in heaven. Clearly, if they were assured a place in heaven after merely making a one-time profession of belief (no matter how true it was), then Jesus would not have needed to pray for their final salvation.

Note also in verse 24 how Jesus again affirms the love that the Father has for him. He also speaks again of his eternality, since the Father’s love for him has existed “before the foundation of the world.”

Jesus concludes the prayer (in verses 25-26) my affirming that although the world has not known God, He has, and the disciples have known and believed that Jesus was sent by the Father. Jesus had made the Father’s name (i.e. his presence) known to them so that two things may be true:

1. The love of the Father may be in them, and
2. That Jesus himself (via the Holy Spirit) might be in them.

I would like to conclude my reflections on Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer by quoting and then commenting on Fr. Farley’s reflections on the unity of the Church. The emphasis is in the original

“…this unity is not so much something the Church must create (such as, for example, through ecumenism), but something God sovereignly bestows as a gift. That is, this unity is an objective reality, an inalienable mark of the Church, a characteristic without which the Church ceases to be the Church. It exists because Christ has prayed for it. It is not a coming reality, but a present fact. To be sure, there is an ethical component to it, in that human beings in the Church must strive to preserve this unity…But the basic thought here is that this unity is an organic reality, something the Body of the Church already has within it precisely because that Body is alive. We are thus called to “keep” that reality, to preserve it, not to create it. It does not need to be created, for it is already there. Our ethical task as Christians is to abide in the unity that already exists and to avoid schism, to remain in the one and already united Body. For to leave that fellowship of love is to leave the unity of the Trinity, to abandon the Father and the Son and to return once more to the world” (296).

I would argue (as I already have!) that Jesus' followers have not done a good job of preserving the unity of the faith.

Much more could be said on the topic of unity, but I’m out of time. Next week, we will begin studying the passion of our Lord.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

That They May Be One (John 17:20-23)

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

At the beginning of his prayer, Jesus prayed for himself. Then he prayed for the 11 disciples. Now, he concludes his prayer by praying for all those who would believe in him in the future. In other words, Jesus here prays for us.

The first thing that he prays for is “that they may all be one,” that is, that they be unified. And this unity should be the same unity enjoyed by the Father and the Son; that is, it should be real, complete, and relational. They should share “the mutual love of and unity that eternally exist between the persons of the Holy Trinity” (Farley, 293).

Jesus also prays that they be “one in Us,” that is, that each believer individually, as well as the Church as a whole, be mystically united by faith in a personal relationship with the Trinity, through Jesus Christ. For if each of us is not united with Christ by faith and sacrament (“in Christ,” to use St. Paul’s phrase), then we cannot be truly united with each other. Union with Christ is a precursor to true unity with others.

The reason that Jesus gives here why he prays for unity among future believers of Christ, is so “that the world may believe that You sent me” (v. 21). Part of the reason (in my opinion) why more of the world has not become disciples of Christ is because of the appalling lack of unity among those who call upon the name of Christ. Until the Church is one in a real sense (not in some nebulous, invisible, “spiritual” sense), the Great Commission of Christ will not be fulfilled.

This is why (and I know I’m venturing into a controversial subject here, but here it goes anyway…) I believe that it is good for the Orthodox Church to dialogue with other Christian traditions (particularly the Roman Catholic Church) in order to work toward eventual union. Of course, this union must not be won at the cost of compromising Orthodoxy (the “faith once handed down to the saints”). But we must seek it nonetheless. As long as the non-Christian world looks at Christians and sees a fragmented, squabbling, and angry Church, it has little reason to want to join us.

In verse 22, Jesus mentions that he has given us (remember, he is still praying for those who will come after the disciple) “the glory which you gave me.” What exactly is this glory? Fr. Farley has some great words of explanation, and although this passage is somewhat lengthy, I believe that it bears quoting in full

"What is this glory? St. John Chrysostom (in his Homily 82 on John) says it consists of 'miracles, teachings, and that they should be of one soul.' That is, the Church will be enabled by Christ to do His works and proclaim His truth. The Church is thus to be His hands and His mouth in the world. More than this, the Church will abide as one family, united in love—which, Chrysostom goes on to say, is 'greater even than miracles.' Thus, the authority and transforming power of the Church are to be a spur and incentive to unity—one should behold such miracles and fear to divide such seamless unity by the sin of schism. The result will be that Jesus will be in His Church, even as the Father is in Jesus… The Church’s glorious unity will demonstrate to all that the Church is of God, even as Jesus is” (294).

How far we are from this state today! How sad!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bishop Jonah Elected as New OCA Metropolitan

OCA Bishop JONAH delivers the homily at his consecration, November 1, 2008

H/T: Benedict Seraphim at the This is Life! blog

PITTSBURGH, PA [OCA Communications] — On Wednesday, November 12, 2008, His Grace, Bishop Jonah of Fort Worth was elected Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada at the 15th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America.

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah was born James Paffhausen in Chicago, IL, and was baptized into the Episcopal Church. While still a child, his family later settled in La Jolla, CA, near San Diego. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978 at Our Lady of Kazan Moscow Patriarchal Church, San Diego, while a student at the University of California, San Diego. Later, he transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he was instrumental in establishing an Orthodox Christian Fellowship.

After completing studies at UCSC, James attended St. Vladimir’s Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1985 and a Master of Theology in Dogmatics in 1988.

He went on to pursue studies towards a Ph.D. at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, but interrupted those studies to spend a year in Russia.

In Moscow, working for Russkiy Palomnik at the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, he was introduced to life in the Russian church, in particular monastic life. Later that year, he joined Valaam Monastery, having found a spiritual father in the monastery’s Abbot, Archimandrite Pankratiy. It was Archimandrite Pankratiy’s spiritual father, the Elder Kyrill at Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, who blessed James to become a priestmonk. He was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in 1994 and in 1995 was tonsured to monastic rank at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA, having received the name Jonah.

Returning to California, Fr. Jonah served a number of missions and was later given the obedience to establish a monastery under the patronage of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The monastery, initially located in Point Reyes Station, CA, recently moved to Manton in Northern California, near Redding. During his time building up the monastic community, Fr. Jonah also worked to establish missions in Merced, Sonora, Chico, Eureka, Redding, Susanville, and other communities in California, as well as in Kona, HI.

In the spring of 2008, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America elevated Fr. Jonah to the rank of Archimandrite and he was given the obedience to leave the monastery and take on the responsibilities of auxiliary bishop and chancellor for the Diocese of the South.

Bishop Jonah’s episcopal election took place on September 4, 2008, at an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the summer, his candidacy was endorsed by the Diocese of the South’s Diocesan Council, shortly after Bishop Jonah had participated in the diocese’s annual assembly.

Bishop Jonah was consecrated Bishop of Forth Worth and Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the South, at St. Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, TX, on Saturday, November 1, 2008. Consecrating hierarchs included His Eminence, Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, Locum tenens of the Metropolitan See; His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania; His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West; and His Grace, Bishop Alejo of Mexico City and the Exarchate of Mexico.

Metropolitan Jonah will be installed by the OCA’s Holy Synod of Bishops at St. Nicholas Cathedral, Washington, DC, on December 28, 2008.

May the Lord bless His Beatitude, Jonah, newly-elected Metropolitan of All America and Canada with many years of fruitful service in His Holy Vineyard.

Eis polla eti, Despota!

I am personally delighted at this choice. While I have never met Bishop JONAH, I have heard several of his lectures on MP3 and have heard many, many great things about him from people who have met him. Not only has he lived a pious life, but he seems very humble and down-to-earth. IMHO, he will bring a fresh "outsider's" perspective to solving the OCA's problems and has the potential to bring healing and new growth to the OCA. May God grant him many years!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sanctify Them in the Truth (John 17:12-19)

12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

Here Jesus again affirms that he has kept them in God’s name (for the meaning of this, see my notes on verse 11). Note also how Jesus again is thinking in a futuristic manner (the first time his words show this is when he said “I have finished the work you have sent me.”). The Lord is speaking of his exit from the world as if it had already happened: “While I was with them in the world.” Here Jesus uses the word kosmos (world) to mean simply the earth, not the part of humanity that is opposed to God (as he had used the word in Ch. 15 and 16).

“The Son of perdition” of course refers to Judas. In saying “that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus is probably referring to passages like Psalm 109. This Psalm speaks of one who “repaid evil for my love” (verse 5) and who receives curses such as “Set a wicked man over him, And let an accuser [literally a “Satan”] stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him be found guilty, And let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few, And let another take his office” (verses 6-8). That the early Church saw this prophecy as referring to Judas is clear from Acts 1:20-21.

There are also other Psalms that speak of the Messiah’s betrayal by a friend and loved one. See Psalm 34/35 for example.

Note: Just because Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament, this does not mean that Judas was forced to do it. Judas still had free will. He could have chosen not to betray Jesus. God sees all time—past, present, future—at the same time; all is present (in reality, there is no such thing as time to God, but this is the best way I can think of to explain it). Because of this, no one can say that God’s foreseeing of Judas betraying Jesus meant that he had to do it. This is a great mystery and is unfathomable to us on this side of eternity.

In Fr. Farley’s words, “Christ here says that all that could be preserved were preserved” (291). Judas could not be preserved, because he did not wish to follow God’s will.

Note also that Jesus again wishes for joy for the disciples: “that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

In verse 14, Jesus again speaks about how the world (and now he is using the word to mean all those in opposition to God) has hated the disciples, and how they are not of the world, meaning that they are not in rebellion to God, but are rather lovers of God who seek to follow and obey him through his Son Jesus Christ.

Even though the disciples are not of the world (verse 16), they are in and among the world. And they are going to stay in the world, so as to be participants in the world’s redemption. If God were to remove them from the world, then the world would not be able to hear the Gospel and be saved. So, Jesus does not pray that they be removed from the world, but only that they be protected from the evil one. As Fr. Farley writes, “The Lord refers here to the power of Satan to divide the disciples, to sow discord and hatred and to tear down their love for one another. By the power of the Father, his followers are to remain united in love” (292).

In verse 17, Jesus asks the Father to “Sanctify them by Your truth.” The Greek word translated “sanctify” is agiazo, which is the verb form of the adjective agios, which of course means “holy.” Agios is a compound word coming from the Greek prefix a, which means “not,” and ge, which means “earth” or “world.” To sanctify them, or make them holy, therefore, means to make them not of this world (even more so than they already are), to set them apart from the world for godliness and for God’s service. This setting apart will be accomplished by God’s Word (here, I think meaning the teaching of Jesus, which expressed the word and will of the Father). “If they will abide in that, they will indeed be separate from the world, wholly dedicated to the Father” (Farley, 292).

In verse 18, Jesus says “I sent them.” Notice again how Jesus speaks of a future event as if it had already happened.

Finally, in verse 19, note that Jesus says “I sanctify myself.” By this, of course, he does not mean that he makes himself holy, for he already was and is. Rather, he means that he is setting himself apart, dedicating himself to the mission that the Father has given him. Fr. Farley clarifies this quite well:

“[Jesus] sanctifies himself for them, preparing to die on the Cross for the will of the Father (Compare Deut. 15:19 LXX, which speaks of sacrifices being “sanctified” or consecrated to God.) By this saving self offering, the disciples also will themselves be sanctified in truth…Their self-dedication is thus the fruit of His own saving self-dedication” (292-293).

Monday, November 10, 2008

This Crazy WORLD #14

Highlights from the "Quick Takes" section of the November 1/8 issue of WORLD magazine:

Crime and punishment

A tire-slashing granny caught in Germany has been ordered by her judge to do a penance that might actually benefit her community. Fed up with the number of vehicles in her neighborhood in western Germany, 89-year-old Heidi Kohl embarked on a tire-slashing spree, slicing open perhaps 50 car tires, according to prosecutors. When Kohl claimed she couldn't pay the fine, a judge ordered her to knit a sweater for each of her victims.

Coming through

Each year, elephants in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park trudge down a migratory path to feast on the ripened fruit of some especially productive mango trees. Not even a new hotel built over the path has stopped them. Unfazed by the construction of Mfuwe Lodge in 1998, a small herd of 10 elephants has taken to walking directly through the open-air lobby of the Mfuwe Lodge in late November to reach their favorite spot for fresh mango. In recent years, hotel director Andy Hogg says the pachyderms have become more sociable with the hotel staff and guests—though humans typically give the wild beasts a wide berth. "This is the only place in the world where elephants freely get so close to humans," Hogg told the Daily Mail.

Playing dress-up

If James Ticker wanted to play military for his wedding, he at least should have dressed for the role. For his April nuptials in Slidell, La., the 42-year-old man dressed in a Navy captain's dress uniform replete with medals signifying a Navy Cross, Silver Star, and a Purple Heart. Problem: Ticker has never been in the military. And someone in attendance spotted something fishy. Ticker mistakenly wore the Navy lieutenant commander's hat he used in a previous wedding instead of securing a more accurate captain's hat with the appropriate golf leafing. A tipster at the wedding notified authorities who charged Ticker with violating the Stolen Valor Act, a 2006 federal law making it illegal for imposters to wear military medals or commendations. Ticker pleaded guilty and on Sept. 30 was sentenced to one year of home confinement and a $500 fine.

Bad bulbs

Compact fluorescent bulbs: great for the environment? Not so fast. Once a hot item to soothe the enviro-conscience, a new study by Yale University scientists reveals the energy-saving bulbs probably do more harm to the Earth's environment than good. Yale researchers found that while compact fluorescent bulbs do save a lot of energy compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, the benefits to the environment are outweighed by the harm in disposing all of the toxic mercury contained in the long-lasting bulbs if dumped into landfills.

Domino effect

Just when banks worldwide were falling like dominoes either to government equity stakes or to financial collapse, one United Kingdom town council has set in place its own dominoes. Despite teetering on the brink of economic crisis, council leaders in Bournemouth Borough dropped nearly $120,000 on a sculpture of two giant domino-looking blocks of granite. Months ago the same council voted down a new elementary school over fiscal concerns. "I'm sure a lot of residents will be annoyed as they nervously wait to see how much their next council tax rise will be," one local opponent told the Daily Express.

Canine worship

Some might say Pilgrim Congregational Church in North Weymouth, Mass., is for the dogs. Speaking literally, they'd be right. On Oct. 5, the church began a weekly "woof 'n' worship" service devoted to dogs and their owners. Rev. Rachel Bickford said the idea comes from an invocation in Psalm 148: "Let all wild animals, creeping things and flying birds give God praise." Bickford explained, "So I thought wouldn't it be a wonderful thing to let all things praise God together and have families bring their dogs to church." Bickford said parishioners who bring dogs to the 5 p.m. service will be responsible for cleaning up any messes created by pets.

Outdoorsy types

As countless schools embrace technology, one Canadian preschool says it's going back to the basics. Way back. The Carp Ridge Forest Pre-School of Carp, Ontario, will introduce its all-outdoors, rain-or-shine preschool in early December just in time for blustery weather. Administrators from the preschool say that outside of lightning storms and temperatures below 14 degrees, 3- to 6-year-olds will bundle up and spend the day tromping through the forest, tending a garden, and going on nature hikes. School coordinator Marlene Power-Johnston criticized typical indoor preschools, telling CBC News, "The toys, the activities, and the environment [are] institutionalized, and also very manufactured." A few outdoor preschools have existed in Europe for a few decades.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Many Years, Master!

The clergy of St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church with our blessed hierarch, Bishop BASIL of Wichita and Mid-America

As you have probably noticed, I have not done a whole lot of blogging lately. A large part of the reason is because this past week, our deanery was blessed with a visit from our beloved heirarch, Bishop BASIL. Each year, for the nine days encompassing the first two weekends in November, Bishop BASIL comes and visits all 8 of the parishes and missions of our (East Texas) deanery. As any Orthodox clergyman knows, the visit of a bishop brings both great blessings and lots of extra work and activity. Along with the other clergy of our deanery, I served in a total of four services--three Vespers, and one Divine Liturgy.--with the bishop.

Bishop BASIL is widely loved and hailed as the epitome of what an Orthodox hierarch should be--not only in our diocese, but all over the country (including all jurisdictions), and even throughout the world. Listen to the following words from Bishop HILARION, Russian Orthodox bishop of Vienna and all Austria (borrowed/stolen from my friend Michael Sakran's great blog):

During a recent interview with Prof. Bouteneff, His Grace HILARION said the following kind words about my diocese and Bishop BASIL:..

QUESTION: How do you see the relationship between the bishop and the clergy of a diocese? Would you comment on this from your personal experience?

ANSWER: I believe that the bishop should be both the father and a brother of the priests of his diocese. Unfortunately, this does not happen very often. If a diocese is too large or a bishop too busy, it is difficult to establish a kind of family relations built on mutual trust and love.
I have seen, however, a very inspiring example of such relations in one American diocese: the Diocese of Wichita of the Antiochian jurisdiction of North America. I was a speaker at their annual retreat and was able to observe their life for several consecutive days. I must admit that I had never seen such a strong bond of friendship and spiritual love between the clergy and their bishop. Since then I have regarded Bishop Basil of Wichita as a model of a true shepherd.

Bishop BASIL holds his clergy and churches to very high standards (as a bishop should), but at the same time, he is gracious, compassionate, and full of love for all his people. Here's an illustration of that compassion: last night, I was helping serve Great Vespers. It so happened that I was priest #4 (instead of my usual #10, 11, or higher at these pan-Orthodox functions), so I actually got to close one of the litanies. Unfortunately, I got distracted, and as a result (absent-minded professor that I am), I forgot to go out and bow to the bishop. I felt terrible. I hate making mistakes in services, particularly when the bishop is present.

At the banquet that followed the service, I went up to His Grace and profusely apologized. He said, "Don't worry about it! I don't want your bows, I just want your love!" I was stunned. Without a doubt, he will have my love until the day I die.

Eis polla eti, Despota! Many years, Master!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Keep Them In Your Name (John 17:6-11)

Screen shot from The Gospel of John Film

6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

Having first prayed for himself, the Lord now begins praying for the disciples. Note the following facts that Jesus affirms:

1. The disciples were given to Jesus by the Father.

2. Although they were not perfect and had committed many sins and made many mistakes, they had nevertheless been faithful to him. They had kept God’s word. This gives me hope, because if Jesus said that the disciples had kept his word (despite their many failings), then there is a chance that he will say that of each of us who is faithful to him until the end, though we are sinners.

In verses 7-8, Jesus affirms that “they know all things that You have given Me are from You.” In other words, they believe that Jesus is from the Father and that all that He has and all that he is has its ultimate source in God the Father. Jesus has told them all that the Father had told him, and soon they would in turn tell these things to others. And, as Fr. Farley states, “They now no longer belong to the world, having been separated from the world by the Word and teaching of Jesus” (289).

9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.

Right now, Christ’s focus is on the disciples, not the world. This, of course, does not mean that he is not concerned for the world; far from it (see, for example, John 3:16-17). But his loving plan for the world is for it to hear the Gospel, which will go out through the disciples and those whom they bring to him. So, he must first pray for the disciples, the instruments of his love for the world.

We see in verse 10 the close unity between the Father and the Son. As Fr. Farley writes, “Indeed, all things that God has also belong to Christ, since all these are jointly shared…and Christ has been glorified in the disciples. So, in blessing them, the Father will glorify His Son also” (289).

In verse 11, Jesus prays for protection for the disciples. For the last three years, he had been in the world to protect them from the evil one, like the good shepherd that he was (and is).

I hope you’ll indulge me here; Fr. Farley’s comments on verse 11 are so powerful that I am going to quote them in full. First, he comments on the name of the Father:

“By Name, Christ means the manifested power of God which the Father publicly revealed through the Son as a revelation of His faithfulness and love. In Psalm 20:1 and 54:1, we have the concept of the “Name” of God as the manifestation off His power on earth (“Save me, O God, by Your Name…May the Name of the God of Jacob protect you”). The Father had given His Name to Jesus in that Jesus had manifested the power of the Father through His miracles. Christ here prays that His disciples would be kept by the Father in this Name—that the Father would powerfully preserve them, even as Jesus had” (290).

Then, commenting on Jesus’ prayer that the disciples be one “as we are one,” Fr. Farley writes “If the Father will do this [i.e. preserve the disciples through his name], the disciples will be one, even as the Father and the son are one. This unity refers to the unity of love that exists between the Father and the Son, not to the consubstantial unity shared by the Persons of the Holy Trinity. If God will protect them from the world, the disciples will remain together, sharing the unity of love, remaining separate from the world” (290).

I’ll have more to say about Jesus’ prayer for our unity next week.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Hour Has Come (John 17:1-5)

Well, this is my 200th post. You may congratulate me if you wish! As you have noticed, the pace of my blogging has slowed down quite a bit. My bishop (+BASIL) has been in town this week, and although this is a rare and blessed occasion, it of course means more services, more events, later nights, etc. So, I haven't had much time for writing. And, I'm tired. Please forgive me if the quality of this post isn't up to my usual standards.

The Hour Has Come (17:1-5)

1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

Jesus begins by praying for himself, lifting up his eyes (and presumably his hands) to heaven. “Lifting up the eyes (and the hands) to heaven was the normal posture for prayer. John specifically mentions this here to stress that this was Christ’s sole focus in this hour. Although facing his own torture and death, He is not frightened or concerned with His own well-being, but only with doing the Father’s will. His focus is on heaven, since He is soon to return there” (Farley, 287).

As was his custom, Jesus addresses God as “Father” (Aramaic Abba, which is a familiar form of address for a father, kind of like saying “Daddy” in English, showing his close and intimate relationship with God the Father.

He continues by acknowledging that “the hour has come.” There is not much time left until Jesus’ passion. He will soon fulfill the mission that he was sent to do. He is about to go through an excruciatingly trying time, full of physical and emotional torture. For this, he will need strength and. So, as Fr. Farley says, “Jesus prays for strength to carry out the Father’s will by dying on the Cross, for this death is the way in which the Son will be glorified. In the Son’s glorification, the Father will be glorified too, since the Father and the Son are one” (287).

The disciples could not have had any idea what Jesus was talking about here. For to be hung upon a cross was a sign of disgrace for the Romans, and for the Jews it was more than that: it was a curse (Deut. 21:22-23). But God turned this symbol of disgrace into a symbol of glory by using it to destroy death and by triumphing over it through Christ’s Resurrection.

In verse 2, we see that God the Father has given Jesus authority over all people, with the purpose that he might give eternal life to all who will follow him. As usual, Fr. Farley’s comment is worthy of quoting: “God has given Him authority as life-giver throughout His ministry; let Him now give Him power not to shrink from His work of self-offering, that He might finish His work of giving life. For it is only in this way that men can truly know God and experience the eternal life which He alone can give to men” (288).

In verse 3, Jesus gives a very concise definition of eternal life: Knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ his son. And this knowledge is not “head knowledge” or “book knowledge,” but rather personal knowledge through a relationship, through experience. We obtain this knowledge of God through prayer, reading the Scriptures, partaking of the Sacraments, and by simply being obedient to his will. Reading and reasoning are helpful in knowing God, but they alone are not sufficient.

Jesus states in verse 4 that he has finished the work that the Father gave him on earth; now it is time for him to leave the world. Now he asks again that the Father would glorify him. As Fr. Farley states, “The humiliation and weakness he endured throughout His earthly sojourn were not to last forever, but were always meant to give way to the restoration of the glory proper to Him as the eternal Word” (288).

Note finally that the glory that Jesus prays for is not something new. It is not something that will be given to Jesus as a reward for his faithful service on earth. Rather, the glory that Jesus speaks of is “the glory which I had with You before the world was” (v. 5). This is one of many biblical proofs for the pre-existence of Christ. As St. John had previously written in 1:2, “He was with God in the beginning.” Contrary to what many people believed in the early days of Christianity (and some still believe today), Jesus was not a mere man that God the Father chose, adopted, and anointed for his service. Rather, he was God from all ages who became incarnate.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This Crazy WORLD #13

Selections from the October 18/25 issue of WORLD magazine (I'm a little behind):

Green and dirty

If environmentalists get their way in Vancouver, Wash., driveway car washes may soon become illegal. According to The Oregonian, state officials in Washington have asked officials in Clarke County (directly across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore.) to consider how they might eliminate contaminants—including soap—from entering the public water system. County officials have protested the edict from the state's Department of Ecology, and Vancouver's Public Works Director Brian Carlson indicated a number of cities might file a lawsuit unless the state relents. "We're not going to be car-washing bureaucrats run amok," Carlson said. "We have higher priorities than that."

Caught on camera

While James Jeppe never saw it coming, his victim did. Bradley Bosworth and his father installed security cameras in their 2008 Hummer H2 after the Southlake, Texas, family had three previous Hummers keyed. The security cameras paid off when they captured Jeppe using a car key to scratch X's into the side panels of the luxury SUV on Sept. 5 in the parking lot of Bosworth's Dallas-area high school. Days later, police released the footage to local television stations, which replayed a shorts-and-polo-wearing Jeppe calmly walking up to the Hummer and making three quick X marks on the side and rear panels. In a statement to police, Jeppe explained why he felt the need to key the high-schooler's Hummer. "They have a big carbon footprint and they use four times as much gas as the rest of us do, and I don't think it's fair," said the Greenpeace and Sierra Club member. Jeppe drives a 1998 BMW four-door sedan.

Drinking game

Henry Earl finally did it. This time, he might actually wish he hadn't. The Lexington, Ky., man racked up his 1,000th arrest for public intoxication since 1992 on Aug. 23. But this time, the judge gave Earl a fitting sentence to commemorate his inauspicious anniversary. "For your anniversary we'll give you a thousand days," Judge Gary Payne told Earl. In all, Earl has spent over 4,100 days in jail—averaging just two days free before being arrested again on public intoxication charges.

Idleness and folly

Nanny State residents in the United Kingdom may soon have to pay a $37 fine for leaving their engines running while stuck in traffic. British officials announced they will roll out phase one of the project aimed at curbing carbon emissions in one West Sussex city by January and could soon expand the program nationwide if denizens don't put up much fight. Officials say wardens will target folks who leave engines on at railroad crossings and in heavy traffic jams. But the AA, a British auto insurer, notes that unless a vehicle can remain off for more than a minute, the gas required to start the car would exceed the amount needed to idle.

A rose by any other name

Persona non grata has turned to vinum non gratum in the San Francisco wine scene. The wine-buying elite in the liberal Bay Area have projected their annoyance with Republican Sen. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as vice presidential running mate onto a wine that bears a similar name to the Alaska governor. According to one local wine merchant, sales of the formerly popular Palin Syrah wine, a Chilean organic red vino, have plummeted since McCain's announcement. "Before McCain made his announcement it was selling very well, because it's an affordable wine and it's from South America," said Celine Guillou, co-owner of the Yield Wine Bar in San Francisco. "Then he made his announcement and we hear people making comments constantly about the wine." Other areas of the nation have different tastes, however. Sales of the boutique wine have spiked in conservative Houston and even in staunchly Democratic New York City.

I'd be willing to try a bottle! -- Fr. James

Wakeup call

Greek police reported last week that two airplanes had to delay landing for 40 minutes and instead circled over the Aegean Sea. The reason: An air traffic controller had overslept, and the pilots' repeated tower calls for directions went unanswered. The planes finally were able to land safely at their destination on the island of Lesbos. Police said the controller, whom they did not name, would face a suspension of a few days.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Turn Out The Lights...

Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who ran up and down the field at will, seldom encountering anything that might could be called "defense"

... The Party's Over.

Texas Tech 39, Texas 33

I am broken-hearted. I really thought that the Longhorns had a great chance to win all their games and compete for the national title. Now their national title hopes are pretty much shot. (Yes, I realize that it is not impossible for them to still play in the championship game, but at this point it is extremely unlikely).

Because I watched the entire game, I could comment at length about how neither the Longhorn defense or offense even showed up until the second half. I could comment about how the Horns rallied from 10 down to take a 1-point lead with 1:30 left and then promptly gagged up the lead. But I won't. Suffice it to say that I'm very, very disappointed with my Horns.

"Blessed is he/she who loves no sports teams!"