Archives for posts with tag: Matthew

In Matthew 26:52, Jesus made a statement that has become famous: “Put your sword in it’s place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” The statement was made to Peter who had drawn his sword in order to defend Jesus from being captured and crucified. The saying of Jesus is often paraphrased as “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” What it means, of course, is that people who conquer through violence ultimately end up dying by violence. Or to put it more simply: what goes around comes around. Live a peaceful life towards others and they will generally be peaceful to you.

As with essentially all of Jesus’ teachings, stories from the Old Testament teach similar themes. In the case of “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” Genesis 31 gives us a vivid example of how this principle works through the story of Jacob and Laban. Prior to chapter 31, Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and then tricked his elderly father into blessing him rather than his elder brother. Jacob then left the promised land to obtain a wife from his uncle Laban’s family. Laban ultimately lied and tricked Jacob into serving him for many extra years to obtain the wife Laban originally promised him. Jacob, in turn, cheated Laban out of the strongest lambs from his flock after they had reached an agreement. Ultimately, Jacob flees Laban and Laban and his tribe pursue Jacob.

From this story we can see what Jesus later taught explicitly: “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” If our life consists of lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, and fighting with others, then we can expect the same in return. If we wish to hold everyone accountable “an eye for an eye,” then we can expect the same from them. But God provides us with a different option. At the end of chapter 31, we see that although division and fighting and separation are part of our human existence, we can overcome these tendencies. At the end of chapter 31, Jacob and Laban reach a truce, an agreement to stop the cycle of violence.

And ultimately, stopping the cycle of violence and creating a new cycle of forgiveness and mercy is what Jesus offered us. Rather than fighting back against his captors, he tells Peter to put away the sword. Instead of cursing his persecutors he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even if our life has been full of deception, division, and fighting with others, we have an opportunity to follow the example of Jacob and Laban in Genesis 31:43-55, and “put away the sword.” We have the ability, like Jesus, to begin a different cycle: one based on mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Advertisements

For those of us who follow the Orthodox Christian calendar, tomorrow is the 40th day of Easter, which is also known as Ascension.  We celebrate this great feast in honor and remembrance of Jesus being taken into heaven on the 40th day after His resurrection from the dead. 

Unfortunately, many Christians overlook the significance of Ascension.  Even we Orthodox often do that, especially after we have been celebrating the greatest feast of all, Pascha/Easter, for 40 days.  Ascension is the time when all of the Easter decorations come down and is when the church begins to return to what we might call ‘normalcy’–i.e. the way it looks pretty much every other time during the year.  But the significance of the Ascension should not be overlooked.

The feast of the Ascension should make clear to us how Christ’s resurrection was fundamentally and functionally different than any other resurrection recorded in Scripture.  In the case of the others who were resurrected, they all eventually died again.  But the celebration of the Ascension shows that Jesus’ resurrection was unique.  It is different than all of the others.  What makes His unique?

Unlike any other accounts of someone being raised from the dead, only Jesus is said to have been taken into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God.  To be seated at the right hand of God indicates at least two things.  First, to be at the “right hand” of God indicates Jesus has been raised in power and glory, for the right hand is biblically the hand of blessing and power and glory.  Second, and closely related to the first point, to be “seated” indicates Jesus is enthroned as a judge.  Even in a modern American courtroom we can see how the judge is the one who is seated.  When the judge enters everyone stands until he is seated; and when the judgment is announced by the judge, the defendant rises while the judge remains seated to announce the judgment.  This focus of Jesus as the judge is confirmed by St Paul’s sermon to the Athenians (Acts 17:31: “[God] has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”). 

This second aspect of the coming judgment is often minimized today by Christians and non-Christians alike.  We prefer to view Jesus as a very nice, forgiving, meek man.  And certainly Jesus was nice and forgiving and meek when He walked the earth preaching.  But His promise, and the Scriptural promise, is that He will return in the same way in which He was taken (i.e. in power and glory); and when He returns this second time it will be “to judge the living and the dead,” as we proclaim in the Nicene Creed.  I jokingly refer to this scenario in baseball terminology.  It will be like when the closer enters the game from the bullpen to his music.  Jesus’ song would be something like, “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”

Without minimizing the severity of the judgment, I believe it is important to point out one thing.  The primary basis of the judgment, according to Jesus’ words, is not how ‘moral’ we are (which so often leads to self-righteousness, which Jesus strongly condemns).  It is not about how often we go to church or how many Bible verses we memorize.  When He returns, Jesus will check up to see if we have responded to His grace by acting graciously towards others.  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus laid out His criteria for judging: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, housing strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.

Seeing that Jesus said nothing about blogging, I better get busy doing some of these other things…

Yesterday’s Gospel reading in the Orthodox Church was John 4:5-42, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  The story is, of course, packed with meaning, but I would like to point out one interesting aspect that is frequently overlooked.

John 4 says Jesus came to a city of Samaria called Sychar.  To my knowledge, there is no historical evidence such a village existed.  This led some Church Fathers and scholars to conclude there is some sort of scribal error involved with Sychar.  However, I am inclined to think it is no error at all. 

The root of Sychar in Hebrew means to earn your living by working as a servant/slave.  It is this same word used in Genesis to describe the 14 years of Jacob’s labor to acquire Rachel.  In addition to this Sychar, several times throughout John 4 the Greek word “kopio” is used.  In verse 6 it is translated as “wearied” and in verse 38 several times as “labor.”  The word “kopio” is also used by St Paul in his epistles to speak of laboring for the Gospel.

One more thing to keep in mind is the play on the five husbands in the story.  The number five in Scripture is often a reference to the Torah, the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy–the Mosaic Law).  Since the Samaritans only accepted the five books of Moses (and not the rest of the Old Testament), Jesus’ discussion here about the five husbands is likely referring to the woman being under bondage to the five books of Moses.  Remember, a woman during these times was legally subject to her husband, under his authority.

Based on this info, you can see how there is a play going on between Sychar and kopio.  The Sychar, the laboring to keep every aspect of the Mosaic Law, leads to bondage.  Drinking of that water leaves one thirsty, always needing to do more and more, work harder and harder.  On the other hand, the kopio, the laboring for the Gospel of grace, leads to freedom.  Those who drink of the Gospel’s waters will never be thirsty again.  They will reap that for which they had not labored (vs. 38) and, following this path of grace, will continue to kopio/labor for those who will come after them and reap of their work.

As Christians, this should be our worldview: freely you received, freely give (Matthew 10:8).  We have freely received God’s grace, so we must in turn labor to make this grace known to others–not only in our preaching, but through our works of love and mercy.

As a Yankees fan, the season (and perhaps career) ending injury of Mariano Rivera has been tough news today.  For those who are not aware, Mariano Rivera is one of the all-time great baseball players and a New York Yankee.  He is one of the best pitchers in the history of the game.  Indications were Mariano would retire after this season.  He has always been considered a class act as a human being and player, never being connected with any sort of controversy or immorality.  He has been as consistent over the past twenty years as any player in any sport, and last was on the disabled list for an injury 9 years ago.

Mariano is respected by his teammates and opponents alike.  He is known as a generous, Christian family man.  Given his history, everyone familiar with him hoped he would finish with yet another strong season, a fitting tribute to a good human being and superb athlete.  No one would have dreamed his career might end in the outfield of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during batting practice while he was shagging fly balls and twisted his knee (tearing his ACL).

One of my initial thoughts about this situation was the sadness he surely feels.  I also thought about the injustice of the situation.  An apparently good, honest, upright man who worked hard and was respected by everyone goes out in such a tragic way.  Granted, Mariano has millions of dollars to help comfort him–don’t get me wrong–but for me the deeper issue from a Christian perspective is the lack of justice in this situation. 

I think most people consider justice to be a good and noble thing.  However, true justice simply does not exist in this world.  Furthermore, I would argue, it has little place in Christianity.

St Isaac the Syrian once said (I’m paraphrasing) God is not just.  For where is the justice in the only sinless one dying for the sins of others?   Now, this is not to say God is unjust, but rather that God exceeds justice (emphasizing a higher virtue of mercy and compassion).  The reality is, through God’s grace, we have the possibility of not “getting what we deserve.”  We have the possibility of repentance and forgiveness and restoration.  Moreover, those in this world who suffer injustices are promised to be recompensed in the afterlife.  This is the gist of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  It is also reflected in the Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel: “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich has He sent empty away” (Luke 1:53).

As Christians, we should spend much less time and energy thinking about “justice.”  There is no justice in this world.  Instead, in this world, we should focus on showing love, mercy, and compassion.  These are the highest gifts, the greatest virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).  “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13, see also Matthew 12:7).

According to the Bible, the flood wiped out the entire population of humanity except for Noah and his family on the Ark.  Consequently, after the flood, the earth is populated by Noah and his family.  Genesis 10 gives us a “family tree,” so to speak, of Noah and his family, divided between his three children.  In essence, this biblical story indicates all of humanity descends from one father (Noah) and from this father the entire earth is populated.

Many people do not realize the implications of this teaching unless they give it serious consideration.  But the important lesson from this is that we are all brothers and sisters.  We all come from one father.  We all are one (now very large!) family.  We should be challenged by this story to view and treat others as though they are our siblings.  No matter our race, religion, or any other distinguishing characteristic, we are all human beings who are part of one family.

This idea of us all descending from a common ancestor is developed throughout Scripture, and I believe, closely related to the idea of monotheism.  We will see this development play out most especially in the Prophets and New Testament.  One of my professors spoke of it as the “cost of monotheism.”  The “cost of monotheism” is the principle that your God is your neighbor’s God; your God is also your enemies’ God.  In other words, you cannot claim special access or special privilege–God is as much their God as He is yours, whether they accept Him or reject Him. 

Believe me, I understand Christians and other people “of the book” have very often fallen short of the principle I have discussed above.  However, we must always call ourselves and our brothers and sisters back to the authentic teaching whenever we err.  We have one God and Father; according to Genesis 10 we also have one earthly, ancient ancestor, Noah.  Thus, we are called to remember to treat each other as brothers and sisters.  By doing so, we are “sons of [our] Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).