God wants you whole. He loves you thriving and free; his glory is for you to be fully alive. You are his throne. We are his throne. We are where he chooses to dwell. And God does not simply want us as an idle object on which he may rest; he wants to dwell in us so that we may dwell in him.
It is worldly weakness, not worldly strength, that enables us to encounter God. The structures of human hierarchy, whether social, economic, political, sexual, or religious, are worldly things, passing away. By rejecting worldly power and ambition, we may be open to the guidance of God’s Spirit, and be led to encounter God face-to-face in the person of Christ.
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”[i] This is the line that Jesus gives to a would-be follower. I think this is interesting, because there are three would-be followers in this story today. The next two seem reluctant, and Jesus speaks plainly to them about the need for a total commitment. But this first one is very committed. So is this line, this statement that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, what is it? Is it an admonition, in the same way the other two would-be followers are admonished? Is it a lament on Jesus’s part, as in other places in the gospels where he is frustrated by an insistent crowd? Maybe. To me, today, though, this reads more as a warning. An eager (perhaps overeager, starry-eyed, not quite sure what he’s getting himself into) but nevertheless eager would-be follower approaches, proclaiming his devotion, and Jesus sees fit to speak of the constant homelessness, alienation, and inability to rest that comes with this call. It seems meant to be sobering.
And there has long been within the Church a sense of unease at things being too comfortable. If things are going fine, without complication or difficulty, that suggests perhaps we’re not struggling where we need to be. The first few centuries of the Church, this struggle wasn’t difficult to come by. Blood, and tears, and prayer flowed in equal measure. But with the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire in the early 300s, much of the Church’s martyrdom, struggle, and witness stopped. Or, rather, it wasn’t obvious where it would come from. It’s long been pointed out that monasticism only rose to prominence in the Church right around this time, right around the time Christians were seeking greater difficulty, intensity, and challenge. The fact that any of us are here right now is in debt to this ancient pursuit of struggle.
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.