Monday, July 16, 2018

Quote of the Week

"When it pleases him, our Lord gives freely of himself, and then sometimes he suffers us to feel in woe. Yet both are one and the same love."

- Julian of Norwich, English Christian mystical writer of the late Middle Ages


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday Synaxis

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly.

- Richard (13th-cent. English saint)

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Quest for the King, Scene 8

“What should we do?” asked Lady.
The children turned to look at each other in the gathering darkness. The shouts of the wildmen still echoed from the center of the hollow, and with each cry came the fear that the next one would signal the deaths of their two friends.
“I don’t know,” said Joe. He glanced up at Kobi’s stallion, but the great beast simply stared placidly back at him.
“We have to save them!” Sim urged. “We can’t just leave them there.”
“But how?” said Joe. “We’re just children. They’re two of the best knights in the country, and they couldn’t win this fight.”
“So we probably shouldn’t try to fight the wildmen,” Lady summed up.
“Right,” Joe drew the long dagger that Mack had given him the night before. “We need a different sort of plan. A quiet approach, a distraction, something like that. I think I’ve got an idea. Come on, follow me. But remember, we have to be absolutely quiet.”
Joe stood and took the stallion’s reins, then led it around the far side of the boulder. Sim and Lady followed silently behind. The slope there was strewn with rocks, some of them just knee-high and others as big as houses. It made for very slow walking, but the rocks provided enough cover that, even with the horse, they were out of sight of the fire for most of the way down into the center of the hollow. And even in those moments where they were exposed, the darkness of the falling night and the haze from the fire did a fair job of cloaking their approach. Even the horse seemed to understand the necessity for silence, and its hoofs struck against the stones with only the gentlest of tappings.
Inch by agonizing inch, they drew closer to the center of the hollow. The gruff voices of the wildmen grew ever louder, and eventually they came so close that they could even hear the logs crackling in the fire. They found another large boulder just beyond the furthest circle of bright firelight, where the rocky slopes gave way to the well-tramped central area, and there they hunkered down again.
“Now,” Joe whispered, “you two need to stay here. I’m going to try to sneak up behind Mack and Kobi and cut their bonds without the wildmen noticing me.”
“That’s your plan?” Sim hissed back. “Not to have the wildmen notice you? Great plan.”
“I don’t think it’s very good either,” Lady said softly. “There are wildmen all over out there. You need a distraction.”
Joe looked around him helplessly. What could distract a whole band of wildmen hunters? He didn’t know; he had never been around them before. Then he looked at the horse again. A slow smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
“Well,” he breathed, “you may not understand this, big fellow, but it’s to save your master. Just run fast.”
He unfastened the reins from the horse’s mouth and then walked around to the great mount’s hindquarters.
“Here we go,” he whispered, and then he dealt the horse’s rump as fierce a slap as he could.
The horse gave a loud whinny and then tore out of its hiding place behind the boulder, straight into the firelight at the center of the hollow. Joe had intended to startle the poor beast and get it to run, but as he watched it, he got the feeling that the horse had understood his plan thoroughly. Not only did it seem startled, it appeared to be playing the part of a startled horse to perfection, tearing around the fire, snorting, and flailing its hoofs with exquisite passion. Once it had attracted the attention of the whole band of wildmen, who ran toward it in a chorus of shouts and snarls, it took off into the wilderness to the south.
“Come on!” Joe hissed as soon as the way was clear.
There wasn’t a single wildman in sight as they crept out of the shadow of the boulder. All that were left were Mack and Kobi, silently struggling against their bonds, and the only sounds were the chorus of the wildmen’s hunt fading rapidly into the distance. Joe raced up behind Mack and swiftly began sawing at the thick leather strips that held his hands together. Sim worked his fingers furiously on one of Kobi’s knots, while Lady stepped up to each knight’s face and removed their gags.
“Good work, friends!” Mack said hoarsely as soon as he could speak. “Once again, you prove to be the bravest of us all!”
“Sorry about your horse, Sir Kobi,” said Lady. “I hope they don’t catch him.”
“Oh, they won’t,” the younger knight laughed. “He’s smarter than all of them, and me, put together! That was a great idea to let him carry them all off.”
Joe’s dagger had done its work after just a couple minutes of feverish work, and the last bonds fell away from the knights. They stood up, rubbed their aching wrists and ankles, and then smiled down at the children.
“Well, we stand in your debt,” said Kobi. “But let’s not stay here to talk about it. We need to get as far down the road as we can tonight and put this place well behind us.”
So they dashed off into the night, all five of them, running single file down the road. Kobi took the lead, and then the children followed him in order of their age, with Mack taking up the rear. The knights’ armor clinked and jangled as they ran, but in the happy desperation of that moment, it didn’t slow them down at all. They ran and ran, up one ridge and down another, as far as their feet would take them down the moonlit road into the west. Finally they all collapsed together, breathing heavily, along the banks of a little pond. They looked back the way they had come, and nothing could be seen of the place of their capture, not even the faintest of glows from the wildmen’s fire.
“We should be all right here,” said Mack between gasps for air. “We’re coming to the western lowlands now, and the hills of Bor-Takan are behind us. I don’t think the wildmen will bother to follow.”
“And if they do, we’ll be ready for them this time,” said Kobi. “One or the other of us will be on watch all night long.”
“With swords out,” Mack added.
“Aye, swords out,” grinned Kobi.
They all fell silent for a long while, and then Lady asked a question.
“Did they say anything about the prince before they attacked you?”
Kobi grimaced and Mack shook his head. “No, said the latter. “One of them seemed to understand the common tongue. I think I may have seen him nod when we asked about seeing other travelers. But that was it. After that, they just jumped on us.”
“But I don’t think they captured the prince, anyway,” said Kobi. “If they had, we would have seen some evidence of that.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Sim. “So he must have gotten by. And with all our running tonight, maybe he’s just around the next bend!”
“Aye, son, perhaps he is,” said Mack with a groan. “We’ll check the next bend in the morning. For now, we sleep. Sir Kobi, my old bones are just about jostled apart. Would you take the first watch?”
“At your service, sir,” said the younger knight. “And good rest to all. Tomorrow we may see our king!”

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Glimpses of Grace: Twelve Names for Jesus

On occasion, the early church's avid attempts to catch glimpses of its Savior in the pages of the Old Testament strained credulity a bit. There are examples aplenty of imaginative over-exegesis, where the clear meaning of a passage was ignored in order to draw out allusions to Christ. In our day, the pendulum has swung the other way, largely to good effect. This series of studies is an attempt to find some middle ground: respecting the original meaning of the Old Testament stories, while still drawing out those golden threads where the Holy Spirit's work in those ancient writers seems to have been clearly pointing to Jesus. But every once in a while, I'll throw in a piece that borders more on the early church's speculative edge. This week's passage is one such example: the list of the twelve sons of Jacob from Genesis 29-30
It's fairly clear within the text itself that these sons (later to be called the twelve patriarchs, because they became heads of the twelve tribes of Israel) are given names which relate to their mothers' experiences at the time. (Many modern English translations helpfully include footnotes which elucidate these connections.) In that sense, they are a notable study of the way in which Scripture showed remarkable attention and concern for the inner lives of women at a time and in a culture when such issues were not generally thought to be of much consequence.

But early Christians also found in these names hints and foreshadowings of Jesus and his experiences. Although this may seem to be an example of wishful thinking, a moment's reflection may help us see why they made this connection. Since Jesus is himself the fulfillment of the Old Testament experience of Israel (indeed, Matthew's Gospel has him recapitulating many of Israel's major early events), it is not unthinkable that the Holy Spirit may have been pointing toward him at this particular point in salvation-history, when the nation of Israel was first taking shape in the family of Jacob. Further, the meaning of the twelve names of the patriarchs/tribes actually do seem to align with notable features of Jesus' identity, experience, and mission. If it were simply a matter of pure chance, we would expect to come across one or two names where we might shake our head and say, "Well, that one doesn't fit too well." But, so you can decide for yourself, here's the list.
- Reuben - This name is an allusion to the mother's saying at his birth: "See, God has seen my misery." Early Christians noted that this fit well with the prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 53, where Christ is described as the sufferer of great miseries. In the New Testament, the idea that Christ humbled himself to the point of humiliation, and that God looked upon Christ's suffering on the cross and vindicated him for it, carries strong associations with the meaning of Reuben's name.
- Simeon - This is an allusion to the fact that God hears us, and in particular, the story makes clear that it's all about the fact that God listens to us when no one else does, when we are despised and rejected by the world around us. This, too, finds a place in the experience of Christ, pointing toward the hatred he suffered: "He was despised and rejected by men."
- Levi - In this story, Levi's mother makes reference to being "attached" to her husband, and the Hebrew word sounds very much like Levi. The idea, then, is that of union--once again, a central notion to the New Testament. In Christ, we are now united to God and to one another. In the Greek version of the Old Testament, this name is rendered as "on my side," which calls to mind the fact that in Christ, God himself is on on our side (Rom. 8).
- Judah - This name is connected to the word for "praise" or "thanksgiving," both of which are intimately connected to Christ. The result of his work is praise, and the rite by which we celebrate his act is traditionally called the Eucharist--that is, the Thanksgiving.
- Dan - The Hebrew here appears to mean "he has vindicated." Once again, the idea of vindication is prominent in Christ's experience. It is the main point of Peter's sermon of Acts 2, explaining the resurrection as God's vindication of Jesus' identity and mission after his crucifixion. Early Christians, using their Greek versions of the Old Testament, also highlighted the legal nature of the idea of "vindication," and related the character of Dan to Christ's role as the divine judge.
- Naphtali - This name, meaning "my struggle," arises once again from the mother's experience, and the end of her saying regarding her struggle is: "I won." As such, to early Christians, the name of Naphtali came to stand for victory. This is, of course, yet another prominent meaning of the cross-and-empty-tomb narrative: Christ's struggle with the powers of evil, and his ultimate victory.
- Gad - This happy moniker appears to mean "good fortune" or "prosperity." Early Christians read it as referring to the many blessings that God provides to us in his gracious providence. And the greatest blessing, of course, is Christ himself.
- Asher - "Asher" simply means "happy." To early Christians, this was an indication of the joy that Christ had promised to his followers. Indeed, one of the core passages of Jesus' teachings in the Gospels, called the Beatitudes, speaks plainly about the happiness available in the Kingdom of God (the Greek word for "blessed" in the Beatitudes is actually the word for "happy").
- Issachar - This name means "reward." This is a word that God occasionally uses to refer to himself (as in Gen. 15, a passage that we studied in this series and which we saw was intimately connected to Christ, where he says to Abraham: "I am your shield, your very great reward."). Jesus himself uses this word in his final set of sayings in the Bible: Rev. 22:12 has him declaring, "Look! I am coming soon, and my reward is with me."
- Zebulun - This name likely means "honor" in Hebrew, an allusion to the mother's saying at the time of his birth. Not only is honor a major theme of the New Testament, since it is one of the fundamental markers of our attitude toward God (see Acts 19:1; 2 Cor. 8:19; 8:23), but it is also regularly listed as one of the most notable attributes of Christ himself (see Heb. 2:9, 3:3; Rev. 5:12). Consider John 5:22-23: "[The Father] has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him."
- Joseph - The name of Joseph in Hebrew appears to mean "may he add," yet another reference to the sayings of the mother at the time of the birth. This poignant little prayer has innumerable applications to fulfillment in Christ; one example would be the way in which God added the Gentile nations to his covenant-family through the saving work of Christ. Further, out of all the sons, Joseph is the one who emerges as a main character, as our leading representative of his generation. As we'll see, his entire life story is a sort of longform foreshadowing of Christ. Early Christians took Joseph as an example of the virtues of bearing the hardships of rejection and reproach, which is something he clearly did during his slavery and exile in Egypt. Incidentally, so too did Christ.
- Benjamin - The final son of Jacob is not mentioned in Gen. 29-30, but he comes to the forefront later. His name means "son of my right hand," and this was taken by early Christians as an allusion to Christ's divine nature; in essence, as an indication of his identity as the one who "sits at the right hand of the Father."
Now, to be clear, this may all still seem like a bit of a stretch. And maybe it is. But if I were to ask you to name one person who, in his own identity and life story, fulfilled both the positive and negative qualities of these names, what name could you give other than Christ? Who was the fulfillment of praise, unity, vindication, victory, blessing, joy, and honor on the one hand, and also of bearing humiliation and suffering rejection on the other? And who, above and beyond all these things, was the "Son of the Right Hand"? It could only be Jesus. In his own person, he fulfilled the experience and identity of Old Testament Israel by bearing the rejection of the cross, rising to victory at his resurrection, and bestowing joy, unity, and honor upon his people.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Evangeliad (5:4-8)

Section 5:4-8 (corresponding to John 1:35-39)

Then it so happened, shortly thereafter,
Two men were standing with John the Baptizer;
When John raised his gaze and saw Jesus walk by,
"Behold the Lamb of our God!" was his cry.

The two men, disciples of John, heard his shout,
Turned after Jesus, and followed him out.
Now Jesus, he saw them walking behind,
And he asked them what they were hoping to find.

The men did not know quite what they should say,
So blurted out, "Master, where do you stay?"
Jesus looked at the two, smiled welcomingly,
And with love in his voice he said, "Come and see!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Photo of the Week

The Lord your God has blessed you in all your work and has watched over your journey.

- Deuteronomy 2:7

Monday, July 09, 2018

Quote of the Week

"Not needing wealth is more valuable than wealth."

- William B. Irvine, contemporary philosopher, from his book on the Stoic lifestyle, A Guide to the Good Life

(Painting: "Philosopher," anonymous, 17th cent.)