Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Crazy WORLD #17

Highlights from the December 13/20 issue of WORLD magazine. I especially liked "Deep Undercover" and "Criminal Minds."

Lawnmower men

If a riding lawnmower ambling through downtown Glen Falls, N.Y., just after midnight on Nov. 14 wasn't enough indication of foul play, a man riding on the hood of the mower gave watching police all the probable cause necessary for an unusual traffic stop. When officer Seth French approached the two men—driver Donald L. Johnson and rider Carl W. Critelli—the 42-year-old Johnson was not only drunk, but also admitted he had been smoking marijuana. Johnson attempted to explain that he was taking the mower to a local pub—in order to sell it. Police charged Johnson with driving while impaired and dealt him 10 traffic tickets. Critelli was cited for not wearing a safety belt.

Cart, horse

Perhaps in haste to be the first public group to do so, school board members with the Hempstead Union Free School District in Long Island voted unanimously to rename Ludlum Elementary School in honor of the soon-to-be 44th president, Barack Obama, weeks before the Illinois senator will take office. Board Members in Hempstead, N.Y., agreed to the change at the request of students of the African-American and Latino dominated school. But Barack Obama Elementary probably won't be the last bit of public Obamamania prior to Inauguration Day. Another school in Long Island and one in Portland, Ore., could consider changes in December or January. And the Prime Minister of Antigua says he would like to rename the Caribbean nation's highest peak Mount Obama.

Winner saves all

A lottery winner in New York promises his $3 million prize from a scratch-off game won't change his life. "I don't want this to change my style of living," Milton Dominguez Estrada, 47, told The New York Post. "I will continue to work." And that's exactly what he did. After winning the lotto on a lunch break on Oct. 17, Estrada says he "[calmed] myself down and [went] back to work." The Long Island school janitor opted for an annual payout of $150,000 a year for the next 20 years. Estrada said he would take a "long-awaited vacation" but save the rest for his three children's college education.

Deep undercover

German police in Bochum used a mail-order catalog to help solve the case of a serial burglar in the North Rhine-Westphalia town. Police suspected the burglar who had been nabbing laptops around town had a hideout and stash in a local forest. So officers purchased a pair of tree costumes for about $130 each out of a catalog and waited for delivery. Once the costumes arrived, two cops donned the outfits and made way for the area of the forest identified by a tipster. The two officers reportedly waited for eight hours—looking either like a small Christmas tree while standing or a heap of moss while seated—before the burglar returned to his lair. After a brief struggle in their costumes, police arrested a 39-year-old Romanian man who allegedly traveled to Germany to commit the burglaries.

In for a penny

A penny not paid could land Eileen Wilbur in legal trouble. The city of South Attleboro, Mass., billed the 74-year-old Wilbur for one cent she owes on her utility bill. The letter also threatened Wilbur, who is blind, with a $48 tax lien if she doesn't pay up. A city spokesman said the collector's office automatically printed bills for all residents who owed money. A penny for Wilbur's thoughts? "They wasted taxpayer money on the letter," she said, noting the 42-cent postage on the notice.

Criminal minds

Forget LoJack, The Club, and other anti-theft devices for your car. If one botched auto theft in Kansas City, Mo., is any indication, a manual transmission might be just as effective. Police say an adult and a juvenile male attempted to carjack a woman at 11 p.m. on Nov. 17 at gunpoint. After the woman made way for the thieves, the two males attempted to drive off in her car. But the pair's crime stalled when neither could figure out how to work the stick shift. The two were arrested later that night.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christ is Born!

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee.
(Troparion of the Nativity)

Today the virgin giveth birth to Him Who is above all being, and the earth offereth a cave to Him Whom no man can approach. Angels with shepherds give glory, and magi journey with a star. For our sake is born a Young Child, the Pre-eternal God!
(Kontakion of the Nativity)

Wishing you a blessed Nativity Feast from the Early family: Fr. James, Kh. Jennifer, Audrey, Courtney, Beth, and Christine.

I'll be traveling over the next few days, so it will be well into next week before I make my next post. May the Lord bless you all.

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

If I Never Heard Them Again...I'd Be Delighted

Nat King Cole, who recorded the original version of "The Christmas Song"

I've never been a big fan of secular Christmas music. Each year in late November, I cringe when in every store, you hear nothing but cheesy Christmas song after cheesy Christmas song. What's worse, beginning in late November, a few of our local radio stations start playing nothing but these songs...and, of course, my daughters all insist upon listening to nothing else!

In the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge, I thought I would make my own personal list of "Christmas" (some barely deserve the title) songs that I really cannot stand. Just to be extra cantankerous, I am going to only include songs that are loved by millions. I'll exclude songs that practically no one likes, such as "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" or the wretched "Last Christmas" by Wham (sound of retching). In order to make this list, a song had to have been heard by me at least 100 times over the past 7 years (even though I avoid them!)

So, here it goes: The ten beloved Christmas/Holiday songs that I hate the most, in order from those I hate the least to those I hate the most:

10. Rocking Around the Christmas Tree (Goofy)

9. Jingle Bells (No one over about 12 should like this song!)

8. I'll Be Home For Christmas (Way too sappy)

7. White Christmas (I know; you all love it. No offense to you or to Bing!)

6. Sleigh Ride (I had to play this in band all the time and pretty much couldn't stand it by my senior year in HS)

5. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Sappy, and I hate the line about "the Fates" -- there is no such thing as "the Fates!")

4. Let it Snow (pointless)

3. Santa Baby (even more pointless)

2. Winter Wonderland (all-time dumbest lyrics, IMHO)

AND all time LEAST FAVORITE (popular) Christmas song...drum roll, please.....

1. The Christmas Song (I know, I know, this will be heresy to many of you. Forgive me! I've just heard it about 1000 times too many, and the sappy, syrupy lyrics give me indigestion. Why does every recording artist on the planet feel compelled to record this song?)

Thank you for indulging me. I wish you all a blessed celebration of the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh (that's Christmas for all you Aggies out there!)

By the way, what would you add to the list? I solicit your thoughts.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The New Steve

One of my kids' favorite TV shows is Blue's Clues, which has been showing on Nickelodeon for many years. Audrey watched it when she was little, and the other three still do from time to time (on video; we haven't had cable for years).

If you are familiar with the show, you know that the original host Steve Burns left the show in 2002. His replacement, a fellow named Joe (played by Donovan Patton), just doesn't have Steve's charm or sense of humor. Audrey and I agree that the show has never been the same since Steve left.

Anyway, did you ever wonder what has happened to Steve? He actually released a rock album (he had been in several bands before being hired as the host of Blue's Clues). Here is a video that he released in 2003. It's actually a pretty decent song!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pilate's Indecision (John 19:6-11)

6 Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!

Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.”

7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

8 Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, 9 and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

10 Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”

11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

Pilate’s plan to free Jesus by appealing to the crowd’s sense of pity failed miserably. In fact, it had the opposite result. In Fr. Farley’s words, “The Jews had hoped that Jesus was indeed to prove their Messiah, the One who would overthrow the might of Rome and liberate Israel. When they saw Jesus so brutally humiliated, they concluded that they had been deceived in this hope, and that Jesus must have been a deceiver, as His enemies said” (320). All they wanted was for him to die.

Pilate can see that the crowd does not truly desire justice; their cries are a matter of personal envy and vendetta. Disgusted with their lust for blood, he tells them to crucify Jesus themselves, for he can find no fault in him. Of course, this retort is a little silly (Fr. Farley says “petulant”), since Pilate knows that the Jewish rulers have no legal authority to crucify anyone.

The Jewish rulers keep pressing. They remind Pilate that Jesus has committed an offense that deserves capital punishment under their law. “Pilate himself may not see any cause to put Jesus to death, but let him respect the local sensibilities” (Farley, 320).

The growing agitation among the crowd causes Pilate to become even more afraid. The situation outside the praetorium is becoming closer and closer to a riot. And, as Fr. Farley points out, Pilate was a pagan, and like all pagans, he was certainly prone to superstition. He speculates that perhaps Pilate is wondering if Jesus might be divine or not: “Something there was about Jesus’ demeanor, His serenity, his freedom from fear, that made the idea of his being the Son of God more compelling. (Possibly also by this time Pilate’s wife had sent her message to him, begging him to have nothing to do with Jesus, since she had suffered much in a dream that night because of Him; compare Matthew 27:19)” (321).

Whatever the cause of his fear may be, Pilate tries again to determine just who Jesus is, demanding of him, “Where are you from?” But Pilate’s answer does not come from a truly searching heart. As he has already made clear, Pilate is not truly interested in seeking truth. Because of this, Jesus does not answer him.

Jesus’ silence infuriates Pilate. How dare this Galilean peasant, rejected by his own people, not answer the mighty Roman governor of Judea? Note how Pilate twice affirms his power. “Cannot Jesus see how important Pilate is?” (Farley, 322). Ironically, Pilate claims that he has authority over Jesus’ life and death, when in fact, just the opposite is true!

Jesus reminds (or informs) Pilate that he would have no power if it were not granted to him by God. In Fr. Farley’s words, “Pilate is not the one in control, as he imagines. He is just a pawn, for all his outward show of might and authority…God, who truly has all authority, is the judge here, not Pilate” (322). The Jewish authorities who delivered Jesus to Pilate bear greater responsibility than Pilate himself, and Judas, for betraying Jesus into their hands, bears the greatest guilt of all these mentioned.

Ultimately, however, the greatest responsibility for Jesus’ death falls on us. For if we had not sinned, Jesus would not have needed to die.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Behold the Man! (John 19:1-5)

1 So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3 Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands.

4 Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” 5 Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”

Pilate can see that he is losing the crowd, so he tries to appease them by having Jesus scourged. Perhaps this will be good enough for them; perhaps they will stop calling for Jesus’ execution. Regarding scourging, listen to Fr. Farley’s description of this brutal punishment:

“The Roman punishment of scourging was severe indeed, and calculated to wring the heart of anyone. It involved having the victim tied to a post with his back and legs exposed. One (or two) soldiers then lashed the length of the victim with a leather flagellum or whip of several thongs, each thong of which had pieces of bone or metal inserted into it. These pieces actually removed the flesh from the victim’s back and legs during this scourging, turning the back into a bloody pulp and exposing the bones, sinews, and nerves within. It was not uncommon for some to die during scourging” (319).

To me, this sounds exactly like what was depicted in The Passion of the Christ (although certainly, the real scourging might not have lasted as long, and in any case, it wasn’t necessary to show the whole thing!).

This brutal scourging was not enough for the soldiers. They also insisted upon mocking Jesus in a cruel parody of the ritual of greeting a Roman Emperor. In Jesus’ day, when a Roman citizen found himself in the presence of the Emperor (who would, of course, be wearing a crown), he would approach slowly, kneel before him, cry out “Hail Caesar,” and give him a kiss of allegiance. Instead of doing this before the King of Kings, however, the soldiers made him a crown of thorns, lacerating his scalp as they roughly placed it on him. They then placed a purple garment on him (purple being the sign of royalty), mockingly called out “Hail, King of the Jews!,” and gave him slaps instead of a kiss.

Pilate allows this abuse, then goes back out to face the crowd and show them just how beaten, broken, and humiliated Jesus now was. He is hoping “that the crowd, seeing one of their countrymen so badly abused, will rouse themselves to His defense and ask for him to be the one released” (Farley, 319). He cries to them, “Behold the man!”—“that is, ‘Look at the poor thing!’ His hope is that the spectacle will excite their pity for the Nazarene” (320). It is as if he is saying, “Are you satisfied now? Haven’t you had enough?”

Sadly, they had not.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This Crazy WORLD #16

Highlights from the "Quick Takes" section from the November 29 / December 6 issue of WORLD magazine

Great escape

If the church can be built brick by brick, it can be stolen that way too.
According to officials in the Russian Orthodox church, a 200-year-old church building has completely vanished, apparently stolen one piece at a time. Clergymen went to visit the abandoned church building in Komarovo, Russia, after officials began to discuss reopening the 1809 building for services. Figuring the brick heist must have occurred sometime in October, church officials reported to police that all that remained was the 200-year-old building's foundation and a few wall sections.

Tempest in a Tin Pot

Good thing he didn't put it on eBay with a "Buy it Now" option. Otherwise, one anonymous eBay seller might have missed out on the surprise sale of a lifetime. EBay member "123ecklin" listed a terribly beat-up 1963 Pontiac with no engine originally for just $500. The price didn't stay that low for long. Once treasure hunters on the online auction site discovered the slightly rusted and heavily dinged muscle car carcass was actually a 1963 Pontiac LeMans Tempest Super Duty Coupe, one of seven ever made, bidding on the historic drag-racing vehicle skyrocketed. At close, the car fetched $226,521. The ultra-rare Tempest was said to be one of the fastest dragsters of its era. In the question-and-answer section of the eBay listing, the seller admitted that he had considered simply scrapping his inherited Pontiac.

Think before you speak

Calling the cops wasn't Debra Hatton's smartest move. The woman phoned the authorities to report a burglary at her Upper Darby, Pa., home. But when police arrived, Hatton and her husband Edward Hatton were the ones who wound up in the slammer. Once inside the home, police discovered the couple had been growing marijuana and had collected a number of high--powered automatic weapons to protect their narcotics operation. "[We] recovered this AK47 with a clip that was fully loaded containing 30 rounds of ammunition," Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood told the local CBS affiliate. Along the way, police also ran across a bizarre collection of police badges along with Nazi memorabilia. Considering the Hattons called police to their house, "I guess you have to put them in the realm of some of the world's dumbest criminals," said Chitwood.

Psychic, can you spare a divination?

It doesn't take a psychic to know that times are hard. That is, unless you're a psychic. According to a Columbia University business professor, many Americans are taking whatever disposable income they have to consult self-styled mediums and psychics to divine what their financial future holds. "People want the illusion of control," Columbia professor and psychic industry researcher Gita Johar told
According to one psychic interviewed by whose clients inundated her with messages after the Dow's sharp 770-point drop on Sept. 30, customers want to know not what stocks will tank, but whether they will be able to keep their homes and their jobs.

Line 'er up

Fairly soon, Beatrice Muller will have to find a new home. For her, that means a new luxury ocean liner. For the past eight years, Muller has lived aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 as the vessel's only permanent resident.
Muller, 89, began traveling aboard with her husband in 1995. And shortly after her husband died aboard in 1999, she sold her New Jersey home and moved onto the vessel for good, forking over close to $5,000 per month as rent. But when the soon-to-be-decommissioned QE2 makes its final port call in Dubai in December, Muller will be forced to look for another floating retirement home: "I'll keep on staying at sea, I don't want to go back to housekeeping," she told the BBC.

Partied out

A spat between a Swedish school and parents got so ugly the Swedish Parliament got involved. The imbroglio began last May when an 8-year-old schoolboy handed out birthday party invitations to all but two of his classmates. The boy's father explained that one of the uninvited boys hadn't invited his child to his own party. The other uninvited boy had bullied his son, said the father. School officials didn't like the snub, however. A teacher confiscated the invitations because the two boys weren't included.
The father appealed the decision straight to the nation's parliamentary ombudsman office, which sided with the birthday boy, but declined to sanction the school.

If I had a hammer

More proof crime doesn't pay: A 31-year-old Veradale, Wash., man bought an $11 hammer on Nov. 9 in order to walk next door to a closed liquor store, smash the window, and steal a $9 bottle of wine. After discovering the burglar (or was he the victim?) with a bloody hand and a bottle of booze, police arrested and charged Muoi Van Nguyen with two counts of second-degree burglary and three other lesser charges.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I Find No Fault in Him (John 18:38b-40)

38 …And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.

39 “But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”

40 Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

It is obvious to Pilate, cynic though he was, that Jesus is no revolutionary. He is innocent and should be released. But he also feels that he cannot just release him outright, due not least of all to the threat of a Jewish riot (which the Jewish authorities had indirectly threatened). So, he comes up with a plan, a means of escape from his dilemma.

As Fr. Farley states, “At the major Jewish feast, Rome customarily made a big display of its clemency and declared an amnesty, dropping charges against one Jew to show how merciful and humanitarian Rome really was” (317; Note: Fr. Farley is using great irony here; Rome was anything but merciful and humanitarian!).

So, Pilate dragged out another prisoner, a man named Barabbas, who was a notorious thief and an insurrectionist (and by implication, also a murderer). Barabbas was the kind of “low-life” criminal for whom no pious Jew would have any sympathy. Surely, the crowd would rather Jesus go free than a thief and murderer! And, “For Pilate the politician, this only made sense. He had to release someone anyway. Jesus was obviously safe for Rome to release. Why not release Jesus!” (Farley, 318).

But Pilate’s plan did not work. The Jewish authorities had whipped the crowd up into a frenzy and convinced them that Jesus was worthy only of death. And so, rather than the King of Glory, the crowd clamored for the thief and murderer Barabbas to be released. Ironically, in Aramaic, the name Barabbas means “Son of the Father.” So, the crowd chose this guilty “son of the father” while rejecting the true Son of their Father in heaven.

Next time: Jesus’ passion.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What is Truth? (John 18:36-38a)

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?”

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

Let me start with an aside. I’m sure that you have noticed that I have been illustrating the last several posts (mainly the ones covering Chapter 18) with still photos from the motion picture The Passion of the Christ. From the Orthodox viewpoint, this movie has many shortcomings, from its historical inaccuracies to its theological bent (traditionalist Roman Catholic). In using the stills from the film, I am not necessarily endorsing the film. Obviously, from the Orthodox viewpoint, we cannot say, as the late Pope John Paul II reportedly did, “it is as it was.” Still, despite its many problems, the film contains many positive aspects, and it is certainly worth watching with a careful eye.

One part of the film that I loved was the dialogue between Pilate and Christ, which draws primarily from this part of St. John’s Gospel. In the film, Pilate begins by addressing Jesus in Aramaic, the native language of Jesus and of the Jews of Palestine. At first, Jesus also responds to Pilate in Aramaic. But when Pilate asks him the question related in verse 35, Jesus’ response “My kingdom is not of this world” is in Latin! From that point on, the rest of the conversation is in Latin.

Now, of course, it is very unlikely either that Pilate ever bothered to learn Aramaic or that Jesus knew Latin. In all likelihood, the conversation actually took place in Greek, which nearly all educated people in the Roman world (particularly in the eastern portion of the Empire) knew to some degree. Still, by having Jesus reply in Latin, the director Mel Gibson is demonstrating Jesus’ divinity by means of the Lord’s supernatural knowledge. Jesus is not just an ordinary man; he can speak any language he pleases!

Now back to the text: In verse 36, Jesus gives Pilate the answer he is looking for, assuring him (though not in Latin!) that “my kingdom is not of this world;” i.e., he has no interest at all in rebellion. If he were so inclined, he would not have let the Jewish authorities capture him so easily! Instead, he would have commanded his servants (that is, the 11 disciples and his other followers) to fight to defend him. The fact that this did not happen proves that Jesus’ intentions are not revolutionary (at least not in the political sense of that word!)

Pilate does not understand the concept of a kingdom that is not of this world, so he presses further: “Are you a king, then?” Jesus’ response in the original Greek is literally just, “You say that I am a king” (λεγεις οτι βασιλευς ειμι εγω)—the word “rightly” is supplied by the NKJV translators. This is similar to the response that Jesus gave the Sanhedrin in his trial before them (see Matt. 26:64, Luke 22:70). In English, this sounds ambiguous, neither an affirmation or a denial. But this is not so in the speech customs of the time. Listen to how Fr. Farley explains it:

“In English, this sounds as if Jesus is prevaricating, and avoiding affirming it Himself. It sounds as if he is saying, ‘You are the one who says I am a king, not Me.’ But there is no such meaning in the original. To say ‘The words are yours’ is simply the formal and polite way of agreeing with a statement. There is no ambiguity in Jesus’ answer in its original context. He affirms that He is a king, and moreover that he was born to be such” (316).

In one of her excellent podcasts on the trial of Jesus, Dr. Eugenia Constantinou says that the closest English expression to what Jesus says here is “You said it!” (said emphatically).

Pilate’s reaction to Jesus’ use of the word “truth” is one of the most famous expressions of skepticism in all of literature and history. As Fr. Farley writes, “Truth for [Pilate] is entirely a subjective thing, a pointless debate for philosophers and fools. It can have nothing to do with the real world. Pilate is denying that there is such a thing as objective truth. By implication, he is also saying that he thinks Jesus is an idealistic and deluded fool, a dreamer, someone who is not facing the hard realities of life. And John is not blind to the superlative irony of Pilate’s dismissive and contemptuous question…The governor is so blind, he cannot see truth when it literally stares him in the face” (317).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BCS Declares Germany Winner of World War 2

Those of you who are college football fans will appreciate this satirical commentary on the (lack of) effectiveness of the BCS system. I received it from a colleague at work who is also a Longhorn fan.

US Ranked 4th

After determining the Big-12 championship game participants the BCS computers were put to work on other major contests and today the BCS declared Germany to be the winner of World War II.

"Germany put together an incredible number of victories beginning with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland and continuing on into conference play with defeats of Poland, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. Their only losses came against the US and Russia; however considering their entire body of work--including an incredibly tough Strength of Schedule--our computers deemed them worthy of the #1 ranking."

Questioned about the #4 ranking of the United States the BCS commissioner stated "The US only had two major victories-- Japan and Germany . The computer models, unlike humans, aren't influenced by head-to-head contests--they consider each contest to be only a single, equally-weighted event."

German Chancellor Adolph Hiter said "Yes, we lost to the US ; but we defeated #2 ranked France in only 6 weeks." Herr Hitler has been criticized for seeking dramatic victories to earn 'style points' to enhance Germany 's rankings. Hitler protested "Our contest with Poland was in doubt until the final day and the conditions in Norway were incredibly challenging and demanded the application of additional forces."

The French ranking has also come under scrutiny. The BCS commented " France had a single loss against Germany and following a preseason #1 ranking they only fell to #2."

Japan was ranked #3 with victories including Manchuria, Borneo and the Philippines .

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Priests Help With Traffic Violators in Russia

I'm at the Texas Assessment Conference in Austin right now. This is the one business trip that I have to take each year with my secular job. I'm too busy/tired to work on my Gospel of St. John study. I should have a new set of reflections up by Thursday. Tomorrow, I'll be travelling home. Please pray for a safe trip. It's only about a three hour trip for me, but I'll be pretty tired.

In the mean time, I thought I would share with you an interesting news story that one of my parishioners sent me. Enjoy!

MOSCOW (AFP) – Orthodox priests are teaming up with Russian traffic police to lecture sinful drivers and even pour holy water on dangerous intersections, the Noviye Izvestia daily newspaper reported on Wednesday.

In the town of Kuznetsk in Russia's Penza region, 700 kilometres (430 miles) southeast of Moscow, an Orthodox priest accompanies traffic police on patrols and gives violators spiritual advice instead of fines, the paper said.

"The effect has exceeded all of our expectations," Sergei Logov, head of the Kuznetsk traffic police, was quoted as saying. He added that accidents had been reduced by a third since the programme began.

Separately, in a campaign organised last month in the east Siberian city of Chita, priests gave drivers icons of St. Nicholas, considered to be the protector of travelers.

Noviye Izvestia also reported that priests on Russia's far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula had sprinkled holy water at dangerous intersections as part of a road safety campaign called "You're Never Late for a Date with God."

Religion is kept separate from the state under Russia's constitution but the historically dominant Orthodox Church has emerged as a powerful political force since the collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Are You the King of the Jews? (John 18:33-35)

33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”

35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”

Let’s review what has happened with Jesus up to this point. He had first been interrogated by Annas and then tried and convicted of blasphemy (at least in the Jewish authorities’ thinking) before the high priest Caiaphas and the entire Sanhedrin. The sentence handed down was death. However, under Roman law, the Jewish court had no legal authority to carry out the death penalty, so the Jewish authorities were required to hand Jesus over to be officially tried by the governor Pontius Pilate. This, at least legally speaking, was the real trial.

Pilate and the other Roman rulers could not care less whether or not Jesus or anyone else had committed blasphemy against the Jewish God. But one threat that they were very sensitive about was the threat of insurrection. And the majority of Pilate’s Jewish subjects were looking for a Messiah whom they believed would overthrow the Romans once for all and restore the Davidic Kingdom of Israel. Jesus had never given even a hint that he intended to overthrow Rome. But he did claim to be the Messiah. And, as Fr. Farley beautifully states:

“That was all they needed. The strategy of Jesus’ accusers was therefore to portray Him as having claimed to be such a violent and military Messiah and a threat to the Roman power. His accusers knew that He was nothing of the kind, of course, but that was not the point. The point was how to get Rome to execute Jesus. They therefore came with an accusation against Him which, if true, would result in the death penalty” (314).

Pilate doesn’t beat around the bush, but asks Jesus right away if he is guilty. Again, please indulge me as I quote at length from Fr. Farley, who sums up the situation more eloquently than I could. In his words, in Pilate’s first question,

“The You is emphatic, with the meaning, ‘You—bereft of power, weapons, armies and friends—You are this messianic firebrand?’ Jesus had been charged with being a dangerous insurrectionist, and this seemed manifestly absurd” (315).

Fr. Farley goes on to comment: “The answer to the question of whether or not He was the Messiah, of course, depended entirely on what one meant by the term ‘the King of the Jews.’ To the Romans, it could have only a military meaning, and the question would mean ‘Are you planning to defy and overthrow Roman power?’ To the Jews, the question could have a more spiritual meaning: ‘Are you a teacher of truth and a bringer of eternal life?” (315).

This is why Jesus asks Pilate where this idea of him being the King of the Jews came from. In essence, Jesus is asking, “Do you mean a Roman-style king--an earthly king, or a king in the spiritual sense?” He wants Pilate to tell him his frame of reference.

Pilate gives the answer when he derisively snorts, “am I a Jew?” In other words, he has no interest in the Jewish frame of reference. He doesn’t think like the Jews! He just wants to know if Jesus is planning to lead a rebellion and become the only kind of king that the Romans understand. And he is convinced that the Jews would not have delivered Jesus up if all they were concerned about was a theological dispute. “He must have done something criminal, something smacking of insurrection. Let Him come clean!” (Farley, 315).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Taken Before Pilate (John 18:28-32)

28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. 29 Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?”

30 They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.”

31 Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.”
Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” 32 that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.

As I mentioned earlier, after Jesus was interrogated by Annas, he then had a full trial (though what happened barely deserves to be honored with that title!) before the Sanhedrin, led by Caiaphas, the current high priest. The details of this trial are included in the synoptic Gospels, but omitted by John. John picks up the narrative after Jesus was condemned by this kangaroo court. Having declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy, the Jewish leaders now drag him before the Roman governor Pilate, hoping to convince the governor that Jesus has done something worthy of the death penalty.

The Praetorium was the governor’s temporary residence in Jerusalem (his permanent headquarters was in Caesarea). Most likely, Pilate’s Praetorium was Herod’s palace, in the northwest corner of the city, across from the Temple in the eastern parts of the city. As Fr. Farley states, “Courts were customarily open shortly after sunrise. Jesus’ Jewish accusers hurried to bring Him to trial before Pilate at dawn’s first light, at the first opportunity to have such legal cases tried” (312).

Note that the Jewish authorities would not even enter the Praetorium. This was because according to Jewish teaching at the time, entering the home of a Gentile made one ritually unclean at least until evening--and sometimes longer. And if the Jews were so defiled, they would not be able to offer the sacrifice appointed for the day after Passover. The irony of this is obvious: the Jewish leaders did not want to be ritually unclean and thus be disqualified from the Passover sacrifice, but they were unconcerned about the uncleanliness of their hearts as they were in the process of committing murder!

Wishing to accommodate their religious sensibilities, Pilate went outside to meet the Jewish leaders. He began with the customary practice of asking what was their accusation against Jesus. Their initial charge is actually a total non-charge. The best they can do is to merely state that he always does bad things. Fr. Farley has an interesting take. Although the following quote is long, it is worth reading in full:

“Behind these words [i.e. the words of Jesus’ accusers in verse 30] may possibly lurk a more secretive reference. It may be that the whole thing had been prearranged with Pilate—possibly through Annas or Caiaphas speaking with Pilate privately. Certainly Pilate’s assent would have been necessary to gain the Roman cohort sent to arrest Jesus (18:3), and he must have been told about Jesus before that morning. It is possible that Pilate was therefore expecting Jesus to be brought to him at early morning, and that Jesus’ accusers were hoping that Pilate would simply condemn Jesus on their say-so, with a minimum of legal formality. Pilate’s insistence on due process caught them somewhat off guard, and they accordingly responded lamely to his question by saying if Jesus were not guilty, they would not have brought Him” (313).

Regardless of whether this meeting was pre-arranged, one thing is certainly clear: Pilate has little or no interest in hearing this case. If they don’t have a substantive charge, they should not be wasting his time. But Jesus’ accusers cannot take no for an answer. They want Jesus to die, but they have no authority to inflict the death penalty themselves (at least not legally!). So, they are forced to tip their hand, admitting that they want Jesus to be put to death. This is why they need Pilate to try and convict Jesus.

In verse 32, St. John adds that Jesus had himself foretold that he would die on a cross. When the Romans would execute a Jew, it would normally be by crucifixion, not by the Jewish method of stoning. So, “It was because of this [Jesus’ prophecy] …that Pilate heard the case, not because Pilate himself thought Jesus was a criminal” (Farley, 313).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Two More Denials (John 18:25-27)

Peter Weeping, by El Greco (late 16th century)

25 Now Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. Therefore they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?”

He denied it and said, “I am not!”

26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of him whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27 Peter then denied again; and immediately a rooster crowed.

As Peter warmed himself, the glow of the fire no doubt illuminated his face, so that some of the slaves and attendants recognized him. Their question to him, like that of the doorkeeper, expects a negative response. In other words, they seemed to recognize him, but thought “surely this can’t be the disciple Peter!” After all, this is the last place they would expect to see any of the disciples, who would certainly be hiding somewhere until the situation with Jesus had calmed down.

Note that Peter’s reaction is more strident this time. John brings this out by saying that Peter “denied it,” rather than simply saying that “he said ‘I am not’” as in verse 17.

But this time, one of the relatives of Malchus, the man whose ear Peter had cut off, was there, and he knew better . Peter’s accuser is described as “one of the slaves,” showing, in Fr. Farley’s words, “that although Jesus can withstand pressure from the high priest Annas himself, Peter cannot withstand even the challenges of slaves and servant girls” (308). This last accuser had actually been in the garden himself, along with Malcus, Jesus, Peter, and the others, and he calls Peter’s bluff. Peter, desperate to avoid detection and arrest, denies a third time (and with a string of oaths, as St. Matthew’s Gospel [26:75] tells us).

Then the rooster crowed. St. John’s readers already know the significance of this event, and so he sees no need continue the narrative. “Out of consideration and love for his friend, St. John draws a veil over the rest of Peter’s actions for that night (compare Matt. 26:75). Peter is not heard from again in the narrative until the morning of the Resurrection” (Farley, 308).
Note that St. John’s narration of Peter’s denials is somewhat different from that given by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Fr. Farley does a great job of harmonizing the differences on pages 308-310 of his commentary. I highly recommend that you read this section.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Peter's First Denial (John 18:15-18)

Peter's Denial of Jesus, by Carl Bloch

15 And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. 16 But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in. 17 Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?”

He said, “I am not.”

18 Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.

For reasons that are not quite clear, Peter follows Jesus, albeit at a safe distance. Perhaps he was hoping that he could still help Jesus in some way. Perhaps he just wanted to see what was to happen. One thing is certain: the fundamental reason for him trailing along was his love and concern for his Lord.

At any rate, Peter followed Jesus into the court of the high priest, who was (as I previously mentioned) Caiaphas. Chronologically, Peter’s denials took place during the trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (the details of which St. John leaves out), even though here St. John places them during the preliminary hearing before Annas, probably for literary reasons.

As St. John mentions, Jesus was followed by another disciple, who was almost certainly John himself. John was able to get both himself and Peter into the courtyard of the high priest, because he was known to the high priest (and, apparently, also to the doorkeeper). Exactly why John was known to the high priest is unclear; John doesn’t explain why, because this is peripheral to the story. But note the precise detail that St. John uses: first John went in, but Peter was not allowed in. Then, after John spoke to the doorkeeper, Peter was also allowed in. These are still more details that could only be given if the author were an eyewitness to the events.

The doorkeeper, who was also a servant girl, must have known that John was Jesus’ disciple, but apparently she didn’t say anything about this because of her prior friendship with him. But she does not seem to have had such a friendship with Peter. Recognizing him as a disciple of Christ, she exposes him. Her question is phrased so as to draw out a negative response: “You’re not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He brusquely denies the charge. As Fr. Farley states, “Peter is not thinking of meeting a direct challenge, nor in terms of confessing Christ before me. His attention is on what is happening to Jesus inside, and he simply wants to finish getting in” (305). In other words, he is essentially telling her, “Shut up and let me through!”

Peter then goes as far as he is allowed, near where the slaves and attendants were gathered. Unlike what we see in the film The Passion of the Christ, he is not actually present in the room with Jesus during the trial.

Note St. John’s detailed mention of a “charcoal fire.” This is only one of two times in the entire New Testament where a charcoal fire is mentioned. We’ll see such a fire mentioned again later in our study, and we’ll discuss its significance then.