Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Little Spiritual Help #1 - God Will Never Abandon

As I have mentioned before, one of my friends on Facebook sends me messages that have quotes from the Church Fathers and from other Orthodox writers. I've shared a couple of these before, and I intend to keep sharing the best of them with you. The man who sends them to me calls them "A Little Spiritual Help," and because of this, I'll use that same name to identify them. I'll number this one #1, even though I've posted two previous excerpts from the series. This particular saying is very encouraging to me. Enjoy.


If anyone truly desires to do the will of God with all their heart, God will never abandon them but will constantly guide them along the paths of His will.

If someone really sets their hearts on the will of God, God will find even a little child to illuminate so as to communicate His will to that person.

But if a person does not truly desire the will of God, even if they were to go to a prophet, God would put it into the heart of that prophet to give a response comparable to the deceit that was in the seeker's heart.

Dorotheos of Gaza, 5th Century (Discourse 5)
The Book of Mystical Chapters, page 69
translated by Fr. John Anthony McGuckin
Shambala Publications 2002

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tying up Loose Ends

First of all, I want to thank all of you who who offered prayers and kind words for my root canal procedure. It went quite well (considering that it was a root canal!). During the first two stages (corresponding to the first two diagrams in my previous post), I did experience quite a bit of pain, but when the anesthetic really kicked in, that went away (and thank God for that, because I am a wimp when it comes to pain!). After that, it went smoothly and painlessly. It was quite a trial to sit in a dentist's chair for nearly three hours, but it's over now. I have a temporary crown now which I have to chew around until I get my permanent one in a week or two.

Now, regarding Courtney. Some of you have emailed to ask how she is. Thank you for your prayers and concern. Since the second emergency room visit, she has been doing very well. Her GI issues have all but vanished, and her behavior has improved near 100%. At her most recent appointment with her regular doctor at Texas Children's, the doctor prescribed a new anti-anxiety medicine which has made a big difference in her behavior. Her aggression and negative moods are almost completely gone. The only downside to the medicine is that it makes her very sleepy. For that reason, we had to stop giving it to her in the morning and only give it to her at night, right before bed. It is really wonderful to have our happy, cheerful, always hungry Courtney again!

And now, one more announcement:

My podcast, has been picked up by the Icon New Media Network, which is a cutting-edge Orthodox blog and podcast site aimed primarily at Generation Xers and so-called "Millenials" and is run by my friend Jacob Lee. (Jacob is the fellow who interviewed me a few months ago for the "Journeys to Orthodoxy" podcast on the Orthodox Christian Network.

This is the logo that Jacob designed for the podcast. Pretty slick, isn't it?

The podcast, titled "Thy Word," features in-depth, verse-by-verse Bible study in a group setting, with questions and answers, and with an emphasis on life application. In fact, it is a recording of the adult Bible Study class that I teach each Sunday at my parish, St. Joseph's. To my knowledge, it is the only podcast of its kind. Of course, there are some excellent Orthodox Bible study podcasts out there, but they either don't have questions and answers, or they don't go into much depth.

The podcast is primarily aimed at Orthodox Christians who would like to be involved with adult Bible study from an Orthodox Christian perspective, but whose parish doesn't offer it. The secondary aim is to help inquirers into Orthodoxy in learning the Orthodox interpretation both of the Scriptures in general, and also of particular passages. Currently, I am teaching on the second half of St. John's Gospel (you've seen my notes on this very blog), and I plan to begin a series on the Psalms this summer and of Genesis in the fall.

Of course, the podcast has been available on iTunes for quite some time. But now (thanks to Jacob Lee, Icon's director), it has a snappy intro and conclusion, and it should be able to reach a wider audience. If you've never listened to one of the podcasts, I encourage you to download this first one in the series. Also, please let me know what you think about it. I have yet to receive any feedback from the podcasts (other than from people at my own parish), so I am curious to see if anyone outside St. Joseph's is listening to them and finding them helpful.

May the Lord bless you all.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Root Canals and Small Things

At about 2:30 this afternoon, I am going to do something that I've never done before. I'm going to have a root canal. Needless to say, I am NOT looking forward to it. To be sure, I will be knocked out during the procedure. I am just hoping that it won't take too long to recover.

Also needless to say, I won't be able to produce another Bible study today. I'm hoping to get one up tomorrow, but if not, it will be Monday. Please pray for me.

In the mean time, I thought I would share with you another brief article that my friend on Facebook sent me. Enjoy.


I come to thee, My child, in the very smallest things, in the humblest details. Each one of thy getsures can in itself become an expression of limitless Love.

Thou dost wash a plate. Thou dost dry it. Let these actions carry within them love towards all those who have eaten off this plate, toward all those who will eat off it.

A woman goes out of door. She goes to hang the washing on the line so it will dry. Does this rapid movement of service not remind thee of something? Those two arms, spread out for an instant, do they not make thee think of two other arms which were stretched out on sacred Wood?

Everything becomes sacred, if thy love transfigures it.

Love Himself is amongst us as He who serves.

Fr. Lev Gillet, In Thy Presence, page 43, SVS Press 1977

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Faith of Colt

I didn't have time to prepare a Bible study today, so I thought I would share this article about Colt McCoy (the quarterback of my beloved Longhorns) that I found in WORLD magazine.

With more than 100 times the population of his home town watching from the stands of the University of Phoenix Stadium, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy calmly engineered an 11-play, 78-yard Fiesta Bowl winning drive early this month. Then, he deflected glory to his maker: "I want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ; without Him, none of this would be possible," he told the crowd during the postgame awards ceremony.

Such religious deference is nothing new for the Longhorns star, who grew up in the Christian faith in Tuscola, Texas (population 725), and remains grounded in simplicity despite his widespread acclaim. McCoy once told reporters asking if he drinks that yes he does, "but only milk and water."

That straight-edged approach to life has served the redshirt junior well. A similar attitude on the football field has proved equally beneficial. McCoy's surprising letdown a season ago, when he threw 18 interceptions and saw the Longhorns slip from BCS contention, stemmed largely from too much complexity in the Texas offense. A return to the modest playbook of his redshirt freshman season proved a ready salve.

McCoy threw for 3,859 yards this year, completing 76.5 percent of his passes and tossing 34 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions. He also rushed for a team-leading 579 yards, including a 14-yard scoring scamper in the Fiesta Bowl to give Texas a third-quarter lead.

The numbers are among the best in college football history and bear striking resemblance to another evangelical straight shooter of the gridiron, Florida's Tim Tebow. The pair of college play callers posted near identical quarterback ratings for the season en route to BCS glory. They likewise mirror one another in using their respective public platforms for professions of Christian faith—and dealing with the attendant mockery such statements often bring.

For McCoy, the sports blogosphere greeted his post-Fiesta Bowl remarks with stiff admonitions that he keep his faith to himself. One commenter labeled him a "Bible-thumping weirdo." Such reaction was not unlike that which followed Tebow's Jesus-lauding acceptance speech of his Heisman Trophy a year ago. Neither man seems much concerned with the rancor—a trait as much worth cheering as double-threat quarterback skills.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Come and Eat Breakfast (John 21:9-14)

9 Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish. 14 This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.

When the boat reached the shore, and the disciples got out, they were greeted by a somewhat surprising sight. They were the ones that had been fishing all night, catching nothing until Jesus miraculously helped them. And yet, here they see that Jesus has already caught a fish, and is cooking it over a charcoal fire.

As I mentioned before, there are only two times in the entire New Testament where a “charcoal fire” is mentioned, and both are in St. John’s Gospel. Other than in this verse, a charcoal fire is only mentioned in 18:18, where Peter’s denials of Jesus are narrated. This double mention of a very specific detail like the charcoal fire is St. John’s way of linking together Peter’s falling away from Christ with his restoration to Christ, which will occur after the meal that will be cooked over the charcoal fire. (I am indebted to Fr. Patrick Reardon for this insight).

Jesus commands the disciples to bring him some of the fish that they had just caught. After all, one fish would not be enough to feed seven hungry fishermen! So, Peter and the others drag the net to the land. As Fr. Farley states, “No doubt the other helped [Peter] (it was too big a load for one person), but Peter is singled out as the leader of the fishing expedition—and also because it was he whom Christ would soon recall to his task of fishing for men” (359). Note also that the number of fish (153) is specifically enumerated – another touch that only an eyewitness like St. John could provide.

Then, the fishermen enjoyed a hearty and satisfying meal in the presence with their master. And none of them dared ask him “Who are you?” They didn’t have to. For who else but Jesus could have worked such a great miracle? Moreover, it was Jesus’ trademark to reveal himself to them in the context of a meal. He had revealed deep truths to them during the meal the night before his crucifixion. He had become known to two other disciples (of the Seventy, not the Twelve), in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-31). For the disciples, Jesus was truly the Bread of Life, the one who feeds his people.

In summary, I see three principles for our Christian life that can be drawn from this text:

1. We can do nothing without God. Despite being professional fishermen who had fished in the Sea of Galilee all their lives, and despite laboring all night, Peter, James, John, and the others caught nothing. In Fr. Farley’s words, “[The disciples] had seen from their fruitless night of fishing that without Him, they could do nothing (compare 15:5).” And we too, can do nothing of spiritual significance without Christ.

2. Christ can do anything without us. Jesus didn’t need the disciples to provide him with fish. After all, he was the Creator of fish! Instead of causing the disciples to catch 153 fish and haul them in, he could have just created 153 (or any number!) on the spot and eaten to his heart’s content. He teaches them this by showing them that he already had a fish when they arrived. Jesus didn’t need the disciples to bring him fish, and he doesn’t need us to do his work in the world. So why did Jesus put the disciples through the whole trying experience? I think that it was to teach them that…

3. Christ wants to use us. Our Lord doesn’t need to use us. In fact, we are often very unreliable servants. But he chooses to use us anyway. He used the disciples to bring in the fish, and he would soon use them to fish for men, bringing them into the “net” of his kingdom. He has used men and women throughout the centuries to build his Church by bringing people to faith in him. And he wants to use us today to do the same. We can do nothing without Christ, but with him we “can do all things” (Phil. 4:13).

And the beauty of it all, is that when God uses us to accomplish his purposes, two things happen: He gets the glory, and we get the joy. And when we allow Christ to use us to build his kingdom, people will know that “it is the Lord!”

Monday, January 26, 2009

It Is the Lord! (John 21:1-8)

1 After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”

They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.

4 But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”

They answered Him, “No.”

6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.

7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.

Several days had passed since Jesus appeared a second time to the disciples in their hiding place in Jerusalem. Jesus had commanded the disciples to meet him in Galilee (Matt. 28:10), and so they had obeyed. But after several days had passed, they no doubt became discouraged, feeling as if they were without direction or purpose. They had nothing to do, and they had to eat. So one day some of them, led by Peter [as usual], decide to go fishing. But despite working through the night (the best time to catch fish), they caught nothing. Had their three-year “sabbatical” from commercial fishing caused them to become a bit rusty, or was this lack of success providential?

Just when they were about to give up, they spot a stranger off in the distance, standing on the shore of the lake. Of course, the stranger was Jesus, but they did not recognize him. This lack of recognition was due to a combination of their fatigue, the effect of wind and water blowing in their eyes, the dim light, and the fact that Jesus’ resurrected body appeared slightly different that his regular body had. So as far as the disciples were concerned, this was just someone who had watched them fail to catch anything. And to make matters worse, he rubs it in by asking them if they had caught any fish, addressing them as paidia, which means something like “kids” or at best “boys.”

Now imagine their reaction when this stranger offers them advice on how to catch fish. It must have been more than a little irritating. After all, they were undoubtedly exhausted. Their eyes were tired. Their muscles ached. Their hands were worn raw by the ropes. And, most importantly, they were professionals at this fishing thing! Who was this stranger to offer them advice? “Cast the net on the right side of the boat?” They had already tried every side of the boat—multiple times!

And yet, something (they probably were not even aware what it was) about this stranger’s voice caused them to obey anyway. Perhaps their minds were drawn back to a previous similar experience, as Fr. Farley suggests: “This event had an eerily familiar feel to it, since it recalled the day Jesus had first called them to be his disciples. On that day too, they had fished all night and taken nothing, and on that day too Christ had bid them let down their nets for a catch (Luke 5:4-5).” And sure enough, when they obeyed, “Just like on that now far-off day, their nets had now enclosed an astonishing multitude of fish” (Farley, 358).

As soon as they caught the big haul of fish, John knows that the man on the shore is Jesus. He didn’t even have to see Jesus clearly with his eyes; he knew from the miracle alone. And true to form, as soon as Peter hears that the Lord has appeared to them again, he doesn’t even wait to confirm it himself. He jumps straight into the water, after first making himself “decent” by putting on his cloak (he had probably just been wearing his loincloth before), and swims for the shore. He is so eager to see Jesus that he totally forgets about the boat and the fish, leaving them for the other disciples to haul in.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

That You May Believe (John 20:30-31)

30 And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

St. John here makes it clear that Jesus did many other things that are not included in this Gospel. He could have written much more. But to do so would not have contributed to his purpose? And what was his purpose? He states it clearly: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” As Fr. Farley writes, “The Christ proclaimed by the Church was a controversy for the world. John wrote his Gospel that the controversy might be resolved in the Church’s favor; and that the reader might have eternal life within that fellowship” (354).

When I was in seminary, I had to read parts of several biblical commentaries. Inevitably, one of the things that each commentary discusses is the author’s purpose in writing. I always would get a chuckle at some of the wild ideas that some commentators would throw out, when in fact, John explicitly states his purpose!

To some, verse 31 seems like a conclusion, so that some scholars have concluded that this was the original ending of the Gospel, and that either St. John himself or one of his disciples later added Chapter 21. But St. John is not done. He still needs to show how Peter was restored to his position as the leader of the apostles. As Fr. Farley writes,

“…this ending only seems odd because off a modern prejudice regarding how a Gospel ‘should’ end. John ends his Gospel, in fact, in the same way he ended his First Epistle. In that Epistle, he wrote, ‘these things [i.e. the Epistle] I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life’ (5:13). Then, after this seeming ‘finishing touch,’ he goes on to write another eight verses. The statement of purpose (for both the Gospel and the First Epistle) comes near to the end, but not at the absolute end. There is still room in both documents to tie up loose ends” (355).

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Lord and My God! (John 20:26-29)

26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Eight days after Jesus first appeared to the disciples, without Thomas present, he made another surprise appearance. The “eight days,” as was the custom in Jewish reckoning, included the first and last day; in other words, the first appearance was on a Sunday, and so was this one (In our counting system, we would say “seven days later”). St. John’s mention of it being eight days later is more than just a chronological detail, as Fr. Farley points out:

“It is liturgically significant that these first Resurrection appearances took place on a Sunday. Sunday, the first day of the week, became the Christian day, ‘the Lord’s day’(compare Rev. 1:10), the day when the defining act of Christian worship, the Eucharist, took place. Jews might continue to meet on the Sabbath, but Christians, as Christians, met on the first day of the week to commemorate the Resurrection.

“As can be seen from John’s designation of this as eight days later, the first day is also the eighth day—not just mathematically, but symbolically as well. For Sunday is the eighth day in the sense that it transcends the other seven days. In this age, the week has only seven days, and after counting seven days, one returns to the first day again. The eighth day, therefore, is the day outside of this age, the day of eternity, the day of the Kingdom. The Christian Sunday is the eighth day in that during this day we ascend to the Lord in our worship and enter the Kingdom, transcending the limitations of this age” (352-353, emphasis in original).

Jesus does not rebuke or condemn Thomas for his unbelief. Instead he invites him to look closely at his pierced hands and to place his hands in his side. By doing this, Jesus proves to Thomas that he was no ghost, but that he is truly the Lord Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Immediately, Thomas’s doubt disappears. He does not even need to touch Jesus, but instead immediately cries out, “My Lord and my God!” In saying this, Thomas expressed more faith in Christ’s divinity than had anyone before him, for this is the first time in Scripture that anyone called Jesus “God.” Mere men do not rise from the dead in this way. From now on, Thomas and the other disciples will know that Jesus can only be properly addressed in the language of adoring worship. Fr. Farley has this to say about Thomas’ confession:

“Here is the high-water mark of faith in the Gospel. Others had confessed Jesus to be Lord and showed faith in His power (e.g. 9:38; 11:27). Here Thomas confesses Jesus not only to be his Lord, but his God as well. The confession with which John began his Gospel in 1:1 (saying “the Word was God” ) finds its fulfillment here in the Church’s confession of this truth, when Thomas confesses that Jesus is indeed God. This is the climax of John’s Gospel, the point to which all has been leading” (353).

Then Jesus pronounces a blessing on all who would believe after Jesus ascended into heaven. Not everyone who had seen the miraculous works of Jesus had believed in him. The disciples, including Thomas, believed because they saw. But as Jesus said, “blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” For this is what faith is, to receive things not seen. As St Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1). St. John Chrysostom, preaching 1600 years ago, spoke these words, which are as true today as they were then: “When therefore anyone in the present day [should] say, ‘I would that I had lived in those times, and had seen Christ working miracles,’ let them reflect that ‘Blessed are they who have not see, and have yet believe.’”

Great is the reward of the apostles and those who witnessed Jesus’ works and believed; greater still is the reward of those who have not seen and yet believe.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Will Not Believe (John 20:24-25)

24 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”

So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Now we turn to the climax of the story. As the Scripture tells us, Thomas was not present the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples as a group. Exactly why, we have no idea, nor is it important. What is significant is that when Thomas returned and the disciples told him about Jesus’ visit, he did not believe them. And, as Fr. Farley points out, Thomas did not merely say, “I will not believe”: “This last negative is a strong one—not just ‘I will not believe,’ but the stronger “I will never believe” (Gr. Ou me pisteuso)” (351).

Now when you think about Thomas, what do you think about? Admit it—you probably think primarily about his doubt in this story. It is a shame that most people, when they think about Thomas, remember him primarily as “Doubting Thomas.” We need to adjust our negative impression about Thomas for three reasons.

First, to think of Thomas primarily as the famous doubter is like remembering Abraham Lincoln for the many elections that he lost, for remembering Babe Ruth for being the batter with the all-time most strikeouts, for remembering Nolan Ryan for having walked the most batters in history. This one episode of doubt in Thomas’ life is greatly overshadowed by his great courage and his loyalty to Jesus. One Scripture that is not often quoted is John 11:16. In this passage, Jesus is preparing to go and raise Lazarus from the dead. In doing so, he had to return to the province of Judea, where the Jewish authorities were waiting to arrest him. When the other disciples heard Jesus say, “Let us go to Judea again,” they said “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone you, and are you going again?” Thomas, on the other hand, said “Let us also go, that we may die with him!” (John 11:7-8, 16). Also, Thomas’ missionary career after Pentecost, in which he boldly preached the Gospel in India and ultimately gave up his life, proves his great courage and dedication to Christ.

A second reason why we should not fault Thomas for his doubt is that his reaction was perfectly normal. Thomas was undoubtedly still in a state of shock from the tragedy of the crucifixion, and he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled. Indeed, who had ever heard of someone who had been so brutally executed coming back to life? As Fr. Farley states, “It was perhaps [his] great love for Christ that ironically accounted for his lapse now. Thomas had been so hurt and bruised by his Lord’s death that he was emotionally numb. He could not stand another disappointment, and so refused to believe his comrades’ story lest it should prove false” (351).

A third thing that we should keep in mind before judging Thomas is that sometimes in the spiritual life, doubt is not such a bad thing. A certain degree of doubt can lead us to a deeper faith. As Fr. Anthony Coniaris writes, “Faith rarely comes without questioning and doubt. In fact, it usually comes through questioning and doubt. As one great saint said, ‘The soul makes its greatest progress when it travels in the dark, not knowing the way.’”

Fr. Coniaris goes on to say, “We need a faith like Thomas’—a faith that allows us to express our honest doubts to God and yet compels us to remain in companionship with the disciples just as Thomas, though skeptical, was still with them ‘eight days later’ when Jesus appeared to them. As He appeared to Thomas, Jesus will appear to us through His word or through a providential happening in our lives to strengthen us in our faith.”* There is nothing wrong with honestly expressing our doubts to God when we have them. But we must not allow our doubts to take over and to drive a wedge between us and God. We must always counterbalance our doubts with the assurance that God exists, that he loves us, and that he knows what is best for us, no matter what may happen to us (cf. Heb. 11:6).

* Quotations are from Fr. Coniaris’ book This is My Beloved Son: Listen to Him, page 78.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

If You Forgive the Sins of Any (John 20:22-23)

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus equips the disciples for their upcoming life-long mission by breathing upon them the Holy Spirit. As we all know, there is another, much better-known passage (Acts 2) that speaks of the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Some scholars have concluded that verses 19-23 of St. John’s Gospel are nothing more than his version of the events described in Acts 2. They therefore refer to the passage in John as “the Johannine Pentecost.”

But the many differences in both detail and chronology, together with the fact that the early Church did not interpret the passage this way, must lead us to reject this theory of a “Johannine Pentecost.” In other words, there were actually two givings of the Holy Spirit listed in the Gospels. This is not surprising, because prior to Pentecost, there were many times when God sent the Spirit upon particular individuals at particular times for particular purposes. At Pentecost, the Spirit was poured forth through the Apostles into the world, where He (the Spirit) would stay permanently. But in the John passage, we see one more (final) gift of the Spirit to only a few people for a specific reason. And what is that reason? I’ll let Fr. Farley explain (and please forgive me the long quotation--but it's worth reading in full).

“Christ breathed the breath of eternal life into His disciples, granting them the Holy Spirit that they also might come to true life and stand on their feet as a mighty army. He had promised that after the Resurrection He would give eternal life to His own, making them alive from the dead (5:25). That promise could only be completely fulfilled after His Resurrection, for it was the new and eternal life of the resurrection that He was to bestow on them.

“In giving new resurrection life to His apostles, He restores them and reconstitutes them as the new Israel. As leaders of this community of new life, they are given authority to admit men to this Church and to expel men from it. If one comes to the apostles and church leaders in penitence, that apostle or leader can forgive the penitent man his sins and readmit him to the fellowship of the forgiven, confident that his sins will be truly be forgiven him. If one in the Church sins grievously and without repentance, the apostle or leader will retain that man’s sins, expelling him from the Church, knowing that his sins will be retained in heaven also. Receiving the Spirit and new life made the apostles the authoritative gatekeepers for the Kingdom of God. They were thus able to bind and loose, and know that their decisions had all the authority of heaven (compare Matt. 18:18)” (349-50).

Of course, the implications of Jesus’ words about binding and loosing toward the present practice of sacramental confession cannot be missed. On this, Fr. Farley writes: “It is difficult today not to read back into these words our present pastoral practice of Holy Confession or the Sacrament of Penance. It is important, however, to see that our present pastoral practice stands at the end of a long history of development. In the early days of the Church, the Mystery of Penance presupposed formal and public excommunication. If a Christian sinned grievously, that one would be expelled from the Eucharistic community. If he later repented, he was forgiven and publicly readmitted after penance and the prayer of absolution.

“The Sacrament of Penance usually has a more private and pastoral application now. The apostolic authority of the bishop to readmit penitents to the Church community has largely devolved on the presbyter or parish priest. Furthermore, the public and once-in-a-lifetime character of penance has also been transformed. The sacrament is now not given only for the purpose of admitting the excommunicated back into the Church; it is also given privately to aid the faithful communicant as he struggles with his sinfulness.

“Nonetheless, despite these developments, it is the same sacrament and the same authority to forgive that is manifested, whether given publicly and infrequently (as in the early Church) or whether given privately and regularly (as now). The apostles were given authority to prevail with heaven by their prayers, and to admit men to a community in which new life from God flowed to the faithful. These words of Christ to His apostles are truly applied to our present Sacrament of Confession. Like Holy Baptism, that sacrament too is a way of receiving life and forgiveness” (350).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Peace to You (John 20:19-21)

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

After Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, he then appeared to Peter (aka Simon) alone. This appearance is not mentioned in St. John’s Gospel but is attested to in two other places, Luke 24:36-43 and 1 Cor. 15:5). Now, for the first time, he appears to the eleven disciples (minus Thomas, of course!) as a group.

The disciples, fearing that the Jewish authorities might come after the followers of the “blasphemer” and “insurrectionist” that they had just condemned, were cowering behind doors that the NKJV says were “shut.” But the Greek word also implies that they were locked. Also, the fact that the text says “doors” and not just “door” implies that there were two doors locked—an inner and an outer door. Clearly, the disciples were terrified and were not taking any chances. Peter and John had ventured to make a quick trip to the tomb, hurrying back, but the others had not even been that bold! Contrast their lack of courage with that of the myrrh bearing women!

Imagine the disciples’ shock when, despite being behind two locked doors, without any warning, Jesus appeared! St. Luke, narrating the same incident, tell us that they at first thought that they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:37). But Jesus greets them warmly with the standard Jewish greeting “peace be with you” (Hebrew “Shalom,” a greeting used by Hebrew speakers to this day). But, as Fr. Farley affirms, Jesus is using the word as more than a standard greeting:

“[The disciples’ hearts had been troubled and filled with uncertainty and fear; they had sorrow like a woman in childbirth (14:27; 16:22). Now was the time for all that anguish to melt away and give place before the Lord’s invincible peace. The Lord was not just greeting them; He was bestowing His peace—a peace that the world could never give and which it could never take away” (347).

To give them further assurance that it was really him, and that he was not just a ghost, Jesus has them use their eyes as well as their ears: he shows them his hands and his side, where the wounds are still obvious. There can now be no doubt in their minds who is now standing in front of them. And so they rejoiced in the knowledge that it really was him.

The fact that Jesus’ wounds are still present on his resurrected body is very interesting. For, in Fr. Farley’s words, “In the resurrected bodies of men, all wounds will be healed and all diseases overcome. The physical body dies and is sown in weakness, but it will be raised in power (1 Cor. 15:43). In the case of the Lord, however, His wounds were not defects to be overcome, but trophies to be treasured. Thus His wounds remain—no longer gaping and ugly injuries, but marks of glory. As the hymns for Thomas Sunday declare, to touch these wounds meant to touch fire” (348).

Jesus then gives them his peace again. The first time, he gave them his peace in order to calm their fear. This time, he gives it because he is about to send them on a mission: “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” They would soon “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations,” as he later state right before ascending into heaven (Matt. 28:18). But first he must equip them for a very important part of that mission.

Monday, January 19, 2009

God's Love is Always Available

Here's another great article that I received from a friend on Facebook. It is by the former head of the GOA, Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory.

Fear arises from the absence of God's love in a person's life. Of course, God's love is always available to anyone who wishes to receive it. But many times, we ignore the hand that God lovingly holds out to comfort, encourage and guide us into his family circle. When we neglect or turn away from his love, worries, anxieties, and finally deep fears may grab hold of us.

Yet, when we open ourselves to God's love and let his compassion and concern for us fill our lives, fear fades and eventually disappears. As St John puts it in his First Epistle "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..."

Why does a lack of love cause us to be fearful? St John goes on to explain that fear is linked to punishment, while God's love through the sacrifice of his Son has removed the threat of ultimate punishment. Yet many times, we allow the power of God's love to slip away from us, and the dread of punishment to creep back in.

Sometimes, this happens because we disobey God in some way and, as a result, we develop a guilty conscience. There's a very deep sense within us that if we violate God's laws or step outside his will, something bad may happen. Some punishment may strike.

Some might argue that such feelings of guilt are unhealthy, and we should do everything in our power, through psychotherapy or any other means, to get rid of them. But I'm not so sure. I think that feelings of guilt, those prickings of a conscience that has been violated by certain improper or immoral acts, may be a very healthy thing. After all the rules of behavior that God has established in this world are not optional. The universe operates according to certain laws relating to our health, our sexuality, our personal morality, and our relationships. And there are likely to be consequences if we decide we won't follow these laws.

Still, I'm not one of those people who believes that God will routinely reach down from some seat in heaven and smack us if we step out of line. The way he operates is generally much more loving, subtle, and parental than that. More often, when we step outside of God's will and begin trying to live by our own wills, we'll get a sense that something is not quite right. Often, we may first experience anxiety; then, a wave of fear may sweep over us, as we wonder where our lives are going and what traps we may fall into...

God offers his love to us in a direct, warm, caring beam of divine light. His love streams directly from his heart to ours. All we need do is receive, in order to enjoy it fully and bask in its comforting rays. But for us to receive God's love in its fullness, we must have a genuine relationship with him in our innermost beings. It's essential that we in some sense be in union with him as a result of a decision to love, trust and follow his Son. Then, when we've established and developed such a relationship, we find that we, in turn, can become human channels for the great powerful agape love that we've received from God. We can return love to him, and we can also express this same love to others, in much the same way God has expressed it to us.

Archbishop Iakovos
from Faith For A Lifetime: A Spiritual Journey, pp. 48,100-101 Doubleday 1988

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Do Not Cling to Me (John 20:17-18)

17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.

Apparently, after crying out “Rabboni,” Mary ran toward Jesus, attempting to embrace him. This reaction was only natural, given the joy that now filled her soul. But Jesus stops her, saying (literally), “do not touch me.” At first, this seems like an unkind thing to say. Many interpretations have been advanced as to why Jesus forbid Mary to touch him. Some have speculated that it had to do with the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body. His new body was clearly very different from his previous one, and it may have radiated with energy, so that if someone touched it for too long, they could be burned.

But the Greek word translated “touch” can also mean “hold on to” or “cling to” (as the New King James translates it). So Jesus is not forbidding any physical contact at all (after all, he will later allow Thomas to touch him); rather, he is disallowing Mary holding on to him. Some commentators, including Fr. Farley, believe that Jesus is not merely speaking literally, but also figuratively. In other words, Jesus means “do not cling to me or suppose that all will return to the way it was” (346).

In other words, Jesus was not raised from the dead so that things could go back to the way they were. Quite the contrary--everything is about to change dramatically. His time on earth is limited, and he still has much to do. In fact, he has an urgent mission for her: to go to the disciples (“my brethren”) and arrange for them to meet him at the place of his ascension (St. Matthew tells us that this will take place on the Mount of Olives). In the mean time, he will have a few surprises for them, as we will see in the remaining portion of St. John’s Gospel.

Note more closely that Jesus now calls the disciples his brothers. This is another “upgrade” to their status. First they had only been his disciples, mere students and followers of his. Then he had called them his friends (15:15). Now he calls them his brothers. They now share his access to the Father. And shortly after he ascends into heaven, they will be upgraded yet again, for as Fr. Farley states: “when he goes [to the Father], he will send the Spirit to them, through whom they will cry ‘Abba! Father!’ (16:7; Gal. 4:6). This departure will therefore effect a glorious change of status for them, for the relationship which He has with his Father and God, He will share with them. The Father will treat the disciples as His beloved sons also (compare 16:26-27)” (346).

And when we believe in Christ, are baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit, we too become his beloved sons and daughters. What a glorious privilege!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rabboni! (John 20:14-16)

Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

Mary seemed to have noticed the angels staring at something or someone behind her, so she turns around. There, she sees the resurrected Jesus. But, of course, Jesus’ resurrected body did not look exactly like it did before his resurrection, and so she did not recognize him. She assumes that he was the gardener—“for who else would be in a garden that early?” (Farley, 345).

Jesus repeats the angels’ question: “Woman, why are you weeping?” But he adds a second, more probing question: “Whom are you seeking?” The answer is obvious: she wants to know where Jesus’ body is! In desperation, she begs the “gardener” for help. As Fr. Farley writes, “She thinks perhaps that Jesus’ corpse was moved because it was not permitted to lie in this tomb, and she fears that it may be left in a common grave. If this is the case, she will take loving custody of the body” (345).

But Jesus can no longer hold back his compassionate love for Mary, and so he calls her name. That is all it takes. “At the sound of Him calling her name, she recognizes her Lord at last. (Did not Jesus Himself say that He calls his own sheep by name and they know His voice?)” (Farley 345).

Mary cannot restrain her joy and cries out “Rabboni” (literally “My Teacher”, not just “Teacher.”). She cannot believe her eyes. In Fr. Farley’s words, “Mary joyfully supposes that her Teacher has returned to her, and that all will now be as it was in the earlier days. He will return with them to Galilee and there will be many happy healing nights when they can sit at His feet and drink in His Presence and be at peace” (345).

Well, yes and no…

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why Are You Weeping? (John 20:11-13)

11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

In verse 11, “Mary” refers to Mary Magdalene. Peter and John had returned to the protection of their hiding place in the city. Mary, however, transfixed by shock and grief, thinking nothing of her own safety, stays behind at the tomb. She still cannot believe that Jesus’ body is gone. Just to be sure, she looks into the tomb one more time.

To her great surprise, Mary is greeted by a quite different sight than what Peter and John had seen. She sees two angels in white, one sitting at the head (of where Jesus’ body had been) and one sitting at the feet. The angels address her formally (“Woman”), using the same form of address that Jesus had twice used with his mother. “Why are you weeping?”, they ask her. “For the angels, this is the time of joy and triumph. The question is not so much a request for information (they could guess why she was weeping) as it was a summons to rejoice” (Farley, 344).

But Mary, weary, eyes filled with tears, and suffering from a combination of shock and grief, does not perceive that these are two angels. She thinks that they are merely men (Temple guards? Priests? Unknown disciples of Jesus?) wearing white garments. So, filled with grief and pain, she bursts out “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

Fr. Farley points out something very interesting. Earlier, when she had spoken to the disciples (v. 2), she used plural language (“we do not know”) and had spoken of Jesus as “The Lord.” Now, she says “I do not know” and calls Jesus “my Lord.” In Fr. Farley’s words, “She is here more focused on her own relationship with Jesus and on her own grief” (344).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

He Must Rise Again From the Dead (John 20:3-10)

3 Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. 4 So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. 5 And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.

In typical fashion, Peter takes off running for the tomb as soon as he hears Mary Magdalene’s testimony. John (“the other disciple”) follows right behind him. This action speaks volumes about Peter and John’s continuing devotion to Jesus (even though Peter had failed him earlier, he clearly still loves his Lord). Neglecting all risk to themselves, they are determined to see the empty tomb and to find out for themselves what has happened to the body of their Lord.

Because St John was present at the event narrated here, he is able to give us a detailed eyewitness account of what happened. We see how at first he runs side-by-side with Peter. Being the younger man, however, John outruns Peter and reaches the tomb first. We see also that John very specifically relates the order in which the two men entered the tomb and the arrangement of the burial wrappings. Why go into such detail? Fr. Farley offers this explanation:

“[John wishes] to present an eyewitness account, something which could stand up in court. John narrates that he came quickly and first to the tomb to stress that he came before anyone else and so can vouch for the fact that no one else was there who could have stolen the body or returned the burial wrappings. Their leader Peter could not have done so, because John got there before him and would have seen it if Peter had removed the body. John’s testimony that the disciples did not steal the body therefore was reliable. Moreover, he did not enter the tomb, and so he himself cannot be accused of placing the burial wrappings in the tomb. He saw them there, but could not have planted them there” (342).

Notice that John, perhaps from awe, perhaps from fear, perhaps from shock, perhaps from reverence for the tomb—or, most likely, from a combination of these—does not enter the tomb, but merely looks in. Peter, however (true to form) plunges right in when he arrives. And, as Fr. Farley comments, “Together Peter and John constitute two legal witnesses. This is important for the building of St. John’s case for the Gospel, for according to the Law, it is ‘on the testimony of two or three witnesses that a matter will be confirmed.’ (Deut. 19:15)” (342).

And these two witnesses did not see merely the absence of Jesus’ body. They also saw the grave cloths lying there, arranged in a peculiar way. To understand why this is unusual, we must first acquaint ourselves with the way that Jewish bodies were typically buried. As usual, I’ll let Fr. Farley give the description:

“As with the burial of Lazarus, Christ’s head was wrapped with a neckerchief. [In typical Jewish burials,} this neckerchief…was rolled up and folded upon itself so as to form a long piece of cloth which wast hen wrapped around his head (to keep the jaw closed). A knot was then tied at the top of the head to hold the neckerchief in place. The body was then wrapped in a large linen sheet [Fr. James’ note: we would call this a shroud.]…which covered the front, came up over the head and then came down to cover the back. This was held in place by bandages or linen strips, which tied and secured both the feet and the arms” (342).

The disciples noticed that the neckerchief was not wadded up and lying in a pile with the shroud and the wrappings. Instead, it was neatly folded together in a place by itself, apart from the other grave cloths. All this must have seemed very strange to Peter and John. The body was obviously not there; someone must have stolen it, as Mary thought. But if someone were to steal the body, they would have had to have done so in a great hurry. They almost certainly would have just taken the body with its wrappings. Even if they had taken the time to unwrap the body, they would hardly have taken the time to refold the neckerchief. As Fr. Farley writes, “Grave-robbers usually steal valuables from the grave and leave the body, not steal the body and leave the valuables!” (342).

St. John then tells us that he (“the other disciple”) saw and believed. This does not mean that he yet believed that Jesus had risen from the dead; he merely believed Mary’s story that the body was gone. In St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that the disciples initially did not believe the myrrh-bearing women’s stories about the Resurrection (told by the angel, which is narrated in the other Gospels), but thought them to be nonsense (Luke 24:10-11). And, as St. John himself writes: “as yet they did not know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” However, this belief that the tomb was empty proved to be the starting point of their belief in the Resurrection.

On the disciples’ faith, Fr. Farley comments thus: “For [Peter and John] also it was necessary to see before they believe. If they had properly understood the prophecies of Scripture, they would have believed that the tomb was empty even without seeing” (343). Puzzled beyond measure, Peter and John return home, where they would soon be greeted by the myrrh-bearing women (minus Mary Magdalene) and, a little later, Mary Magdalene herself.

Quick Update on Courtney

I don't have time to write much, but I did want to first of all thank all of you who have expressed concern and support for us. Thank you for your kind comments and especially for your prayers.

Here's a very quick update. Jennifer and Courtney spent most of yesterday in the emergency room. The treatment was pretty much the same as always: X-ray, enema, and monitoring. The ER doctors looked at the X-ray and said that they didn't see anything wrong with the colon. Apparently yesterday's X-ray looked different from the one that was taken on Saturday. I think and hope that this implies improvement. Today, Courtney's GI specialist is going to look at the X-ray.

One development that was definitely positive is that Courtney slept peacefully through the entire night. During the previous two nights, she had awoken crying out and literally screaming in pain, clutching her stomach and staying "stomach hurt." She had also had trouble sleeping the few days before that . Moreover, Courtney had only eaten a tiny bit of food for several days. This morning, she ate a whole pancake and some yogurt, which was very encouraging. She had not eaten this much in one sitting in about a week.

By coincidence (or maybe not), today Courtney has her annual appointment/checkup with her autism specialist. So, poor Jennifer has to haul her up to Texas Childrens' again and spend much of the afternoon there. We are hopeful that her autism specialist will be able to help with the overall treatment. She has often displayed violent and aggresive behavior over the past couple of years. Now, we realize that this is probably due in part to the pain she feels in her stomach.

Again, thank you for your prayers, and I pray that God will bless each of you. Please continue to pray for Courtney and the whole family. This situation has been tough on all of us, especially Jennifer.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Please Pray for Courtney

This is a picture of my second daughter, 10-year-old Courtney. She is autistic and mostly non-verbal.

Courtney has struggled with GI issues (mainly chronic constipation) for her entire life. In recent months, she has been dealing with increasing amounts of pain from her belly, mainly caused by impacted waste in her colon and her inability to have normal bowel movements. In the last couple of months, she has had to go to the emergency room twice, and neither time resulted in her problem being fixed.

(I'm leaving out a lot of other problems Courtney has had due to lack of time.)

During the last two nights, Courtney has woken up repeatedly, crying out in pain. Last night, she was holding her belly and even screaming at times. Jennifer (my wife) called her doctor today and explained the situation. The doctor looked at an X-ray that was taken last Saturday in the ER, and said "She has large amounts of air in her colon. Take her immediately to the emergency room (at Texas Children's Hospital)!" So, she and Jennifer are heading up there even as I write.

Please keep Courtney, Jennifer, and all of us in your prayers. Please pray specifically that Courtney's doctor will be able to find a cure for Courtney so that her GI system will work properly and so that she won't have to deal with any more pain. The pain Courtney has been experiencing has greatly affected her behavior (negatively) at home, school, and church.

Thank you for your prayers. I'll update you when there is a change in her situation. I hope to have the next post on St. John's Gospel tomorrow.

God's Love, Fear, Rewards and Punishments

Here's a brief article that a one of my friends on Facebook sent me. I really liked it, so I thought I would share it with you. The name of the source is at the bottom of the post.

God's dealings with man are not limited to our legalistic ideas about reward and punishment. Salvation, which is the ultimate goal of Christian life, is not a "reward" but a gift freely given by God. We cannot "earn" or "merit" it by anything we do, no matter how pious or self-effacing we think ourselves.

In everyday life we naturally think that good deeds should be rewarded and crimes punished. But our God does not "punish" on the basis of human standards. He corrects and chastizes us, just as a loving father corrects his erring children in order to show them the way. But this is not the same thing as being "sentenced" to a "term" of pain and suffering for some misdeed. Our God is not vindictive; He is at all times perfectly loving, and His justice has nothing to do with human legal standards.

He knows that we cannot come to Him without purity of heart, and He also knows that we cannot acquire this purity unless we are free from all things: free from attachments to money and property, free of passion and sin, and even detached from bodily health if that stands in between us and true freedom before God. He instructs us, through both revelation and correction, showing us how we may acquire this freedom, for 'Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' (John 8:32). As St. John Cassian teaches:

"God leads you on by a still higher step to that love which is free of fear. Through this you begin effortlessly and naturally to observe all those things you originally observed out of fear of God and punishment, but now you do them no longer from fear of punishment, but from love of Goodness itself, and delight in virtue." (Institutes)

Anonymous - The Teaching of the Fathers ON ILLNESS
page 6-7, Nikodemos Orthodox Publications Society, 1986

Monday, January 12, 2009

They Have Taken Away the Lord! (John 20:1-2)

1 Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

The first day of the week is, of course, Sunday. The Sabbath was now over, and work was now allowed. Jesus’ body had been hastily buried by Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus, and the women who had been at the foot of the cross had not had a chance to pay their own respects to the body of their Lord. They seem to have agreed to meet at the tomb first thing Sunday morning so that they could further anoint the body with aromatic resins and spices.

Note that this act is a totally unselfish act on the part of the women. They knew that they were taking a risk by trying to get into the tomb of this alleged “traitor to the state.” The tomb had been sealed by the Jewish authorities, and it was under strict guard by Roman soldiers. The women had nothing to gain personally from this action, but had much to lose. But they did it anyway, because of the depth of their love for Jesus. While the disciples were all hiding, the women were sticking out their necks for the Lord.

The four evangelists differ slightly on exactly who went to the tomb. Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not further identifying this second Mary). Mark lists Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (son of Alphaeus?), and Salome (who may have been the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee). Luke only mentions “the women who had come with Him from Galilee…and certain other women.” And, as we have seen, St. John only gives the name of Mary Magdalene. What to make of this apparent discrepancy?

Strictly speaking, the four evangelists are not contradicting each other; they are merely singling out different women for personal mention. Most likely the group of women was somewhat large (as Luke hints), including all the women mentioned by name and others. It may be that the women went in small groups, to reduce the chance of getting caught.

At any rate, it seems likely that Mary Magdalene went alone and earlier (she went “while it was still dark”) than the rest. As the first one to arrive at the tomb, she is the first to discover that something extraordinary has happened. The stone has been removed from the front of the tomb (no easy task, that, since these stones could weigh several hundred pounds!). She naturally concludes that foul play has occurred. Surely someone (the soldiers? the Sanhedrin?) has stolen the body. So she runs as fast as she can back to the place where the disciples were staying, and she finds Peter and John. Breathlessly, she tells them that someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb.

Little did she know that the person responsible for this theft was Jesus himself!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

There They Laid Jesus (John 19:38-42)

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.

Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, had been a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because he was afraid of being banned from the synagogue and kicked out of the Sanhedrin. Now, however, he boldly steps forward and asks to be given the body of Jesus. At first, this might seem strange to the modern reader. Joseph was apparently not related to Jesus’ family. Why, then, should he be given Jesus’ body rather than Mary? The reason has to do with the “crime” that Jesus was convicted of. Fr. Farley explains:

“Normally the bodies of those who had been executed for treason were not granted to family and friends. Burial in such cases involved getting special permission from the governor. For Joseph to come forward with this request meant not only placing himself at odds with his Jewish colleagues in the Sanhedrin, it also meant identifying himself to the Romans as a supporter of the treasonous Galilean” (336).

Pilate grants Joseph’s request, and Joseph recruits Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus by night (see John 3), to help him in the task of giving Jesus a proper burial. Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin, and so he too was putting his career and more on the line by this courageous act. Together, the two men carry an enormous amount of a mixture of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body. This extraordinary amount of burial ointments shows their great reverence for Christ, who was worthy of such royal treatment.

The sun was setting, so the two men had to hurry. After sunset, any type of work would be illegal. The burial process took time. Fr. Farley gives us some insight into the burial process: “The aromatic spices were granular in form, and though it is difficult to discern, they were probably spread over the place where the corpse was to be lain to form a kind of bed. The purpose, of course, was to offset the odor of decomposition. St. John mentions for his non-Jewish readers that this was the custom of the Jews when the came to bury their dead. Unlike the Egyptians, they did not embalm the dead or mutilate the corpses” (336).

The body was also bound tightly with strips of linen (more on the details of this later). Then they laid Jesus’ body in a new tomb, which St. Matthew says belonged to Joseph (Matt. 27:60). The main reason they buried Jesus there was because the tomb was close to the site of the crucifixion, and they had no time to take it anywhere further. They had to complete the burial before sunset. Finally, as Matthew tells us, they pushed the large stone designed to cover the entrance, making it roll down into place to seal the entrance.

On the tomb being new, Fr. Farley has an insightful comment: “John makes a point of saying that it was a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. It was the custom to bury more than one person in a tomb, laying each body within its own nice. In this case, the tomb was entirely empty, with the result that there would be no possibility of mixing up the corpses lying within, or of mistakenly thinking that Jesus’ body had gone when it was one of the enshrouded bodies still lying there. Jesus’ body was the only one in the tomb, and they would easily be able to know that it was no longer there if the tomb should later prove to be empty” (337).

Finally, Jesus’ burial in Joseph’s tomb fulfills yet another prophecy found in the final “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah 53: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9a). Joseph, of Arimathea, being a member of the Sandhedrin, would have been wealthy. Therefore, although he had no way of knowing it, he was the rich man referred to in the prophecy.