In the Incarnation, Jesus has known destruction. He has known desolation. He has known the thousand deaths we are called to die. He still knows. And on the cross, Jesus shows forth this knowledge, offering his whole being, even to the gates of death.
– Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
A prayer for your day:
Jesus, the horror of death haunts all human life. Yet in your cross you share our pain and show us death’s destruction. I know you are the Way of life and will meet me at the gates of death, to lead me through.
An unending appetite for junk points to a deeper dissatisfaction: deep-seated feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, isolation, confusion, frustration. Maybe your “junk” is news, social media, work, or literal junk food. The myriad varieties of this experience come from the same source: a desire to be comforted in our inmost fears.
-Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
A practice for your day:
Today when you find yourself reaching for whatever your “junk” is, ask yourself what hole it’s trying to fill. Is there a better choice you can make to address it? Or can you simply sit with that feeling?
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”
These are four sentences from Jesus that are pretty dense with meaning. I think what sticks out to me first is the juxtaposition of two, on their own, well-known lines. Jesus refers to Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets,” a sentiment repeated in several Gospel accounts. It’s a stark and violent accusation, intransigence to the point of malice and murder. And immediately, it’s followed with one of the most well-known tender lines in the Gospels: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” This language that Jesus uses sticks out as quite intimate, loving, caring. When taken on its own, we might have in mind the sentimentalized image of a mother with her cranky child. But when placed in the context of killing the prophets, there’s nothing to be sentimentalized: the stakes here are life or death, and the cranky child becomes a violently delusional figure. Jesus is frustrated and exhausted, but more deeply than that, Jesus is heartbroken. This is a lament.
Luke 6:27-38, Genesis 46:4-15
There’s an old story about the author and theologian C.S. Lewis, on his way out for drinks with a friend. Approached by a beggar asking for money, Lewis emptied his wallet and gave the stranger everything. His friend then said to Lewis, disapprovingly, “He’ll only spend it on drink,” to which Lewis responded, “If I kept it, so would I.”
Today’s Gospel reading is about love. More specifically than that, though, it’s about the risk inherent to genuine love. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. …love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” This is not just about doing good and being loving; Jesus is talking here about showing others love even when it is obviously risky, even when it obviously might result in our own pain or loss.
This is not the law and order Jesus many of us may have grown up with, the Jesus who commands us to do what is socially acceptable for the sake of a well-ordered society. Equally, though, this isn’t the Jesus we’re often likely to encounter in progressive, well-educated circles either. I grew up being told not to give money to beggars, because they should get a job. Once grown, and having rejected that teaching, and having moved from a red state to a blue state, I still get told not to give money to beggars, because I should really be giving that money to a shelter, and voting for the right people to enact official homelessness policies, because I don’t want to encourage someone not to use services that may better their situation, and I don’t want to fuel a person’s addiction or irresponsible use of money.
Christ comes to save us, to heal us, to feed us. But more deeply, Christ comes to reveal to us his Father, the eternal existence that is Love itself. This is cause for joy, because that which is true about God’s nature is true of our own, as well. This is the Love of God revealed most fully; this is the Love of God to which we are called.
-Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
“…Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad. Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” – John 8:56, 58
With these words, recounted in John’s gospel, Jesus startles the crowd with whom he speaks by claiming the status of divinity. He speaks of himself as an eternal being, not bound by the constraints of mortal time. He similarly speaks of himself as the fulfillment of the long-awaited hope of the people of Israel, going all the way back to their forefather Abraham.
Understanding the relationship between the New Testament and the Old can be very challenging. It has been a challenge for Christians from the first centuries of the Church; deep misunderstandings gave rise to some of the tropes of various historical heresies, which often still impact our thinking about God and scripture today.
But the whole of scripture is a gift from God. Though it can be daunting and challenging, engaging with the Old Testament as a wellspring of prayer can illumine truths about God, the Church, and ourselves, in ways we may never expect. This article will explore several ways that readers today might draw from the Old Testament treasures both old and new.
The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist
Today, we observe the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. There are two biographical bits of information that I think are important to understanding Luke’s theology.
First, Luke was likely a Gentile convert to belief in the Israelite God. He rejected his surrounding culture of Greek paganism, but probably had not fully adopted Israelite religion as a convert Jew. Instead, Luke was probably a God-fearer, a class of participants in Israelite religion that was not bound by the law of Moses, but was bound by the much simpler law given to Noah after the flood for all humanity. God-fearers were, then, on the margins: not quite Gentile, not quite Jew. In other words, Luke knew what it meant to be an outsider.
The second fact about Luke is that he was a physician. In this line of work, he would have treated patients from a wide variety of cultures, social standings, ethnic backgrounds, economic circumstances, and religions. Everyone gets sick. Everyone dies. The frailty of human bodies is a universal experience, something Luke would have been intimately familiar with. In other words, Luke knew that, when it comes to universal human experiences, there are no outsiders.
These two facts, Luke’s status as a social and religious outsider, and his work with universal human sufferings, seem to have worked together to craft a particular theological outlook. In his account of the Gospel, Luke focuses very much on outsiders, those ranking low in the social hierarchy. Maybe the best example of this is Mary, a young woman in a patriarchal society who acts as a direct, even priestly, mediator between God and humanity and a virgin who gives birth. This is not simply Luke expressing social concerns; he paints a picture of Mary bearing Christ in the world, and, in doing so, from her position of social weakness, encountering God more fundamentally than those in positions of high social status, and wielding great power and authority in doing so.
Listen in on the full conversation, or read an excerpt below!
Jim: What has been happening in vocations since you took over the role of Vocations Brother in the spring?
Lucas: When I first took on this role, we were at the stage where we could begin to imagine having Inquirers visit in person again. The Brothers had just been fully vaccinated, so we could think about that again. We had roughly ten men who were inquiring into our life, and only one of them had come on an Inquirer’s visit already. The rest had been with us just through the pandemic and had never been here before. First, we hosted a virtual “Come & See” visit for them, all online, which went very well. And then we invited them on a series of in-person Inquirers’ visits over the summer. These visits were the first time we had people in the Guesthouse since the pandemic began!
When people enter into difficult conversations with honest love, able to deeply disagree without questioning the human dignity of the other, they have chosen who they belong to: love, reconciliation, God. If we are to be followers of God, we must do the hard work of giving ourselves to the God of life and love. At the end of it all, the truth will burn brightly enough for all to see and no one to deny. Meanwhile, the truth of God’s love is enough.
-Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
We’re taught that adopting certain ideas or identities will empower us. We’re told that following certain leaders will make us great. Jesus turns the tables. He calls us, over and over again, to join him and respond to him in weakness. He assures us we have nothing to fear when we’re weak, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
-Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE