Friday, September 15, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost


So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. (Mt 18:31–34)

Do you see the master’s mercy? Do you see the servant’s cruelty? Listen, all who do these things for money: one should not act like this because it is sin. Much worse to act like this for money. How then does he plead? “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” But he did not regard even the words by which he had been saved (for he himself on saying this was delivered from the ten thousand talents). And he did not recognize so much as the harbor by which he escaped shipwreck. Even the gesture of supplication did not remind him of his master’s kindness, but he put away from his mind all these things—covetousness and cruelty and revenge—and was more fierce than any wild beast, seizing his fellow servant by the throat.

What are you doing, O man? Do you not see that you are making such a demand upon yourself? You are deceiving yourself. You are thrusting a sword into yourself, revoking both the sentence and the gift. But none of these things did he consider, neither did he remember his own case, neither did he yield at all, though the entreaty was not on the same order. For the one besought for ten thousand talents, the other for a hundred denarii; the one his fellow-servant, the other his lord. The one received entire forgiveness, the other asked for delay, and not so much as this did he give him, for “he cast him into prison.” Not even to men is this well-pleasing, much less to God. They therefore who did not owe, partook of the grief.

What then did their master say? “O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you petitioned me; should you not also have had compassion, even as I had pity on you?” See again the master’s gentleness. He pleads with him, and excuses himself, being on the point of revoking his gift; or rather, it was not he that revoked it, but the one who had received it. For even if the thing does seem difficult to you, yet you should have looked to the gain, which has been, which is to be. Even if the injunction be galling, you ought to consider the reward; neither that he has grieved you, but that you have provoked God, whom by mere prayer you have reconciled. But if even so it be a galling thing to you to become friends with him who has grieved you, to fall into hell is far more grievous. And if you had set this against that, then you would have known that to forgive is a much lighter thing. And furthermore, when he owed ten thousand talents, he called him not wicked, neither reproached him, but showed mercy on him; when he had become harsh to his fellow servant, then he says, “O you wicked servant.”

Let us hearken, the covetous, for even to us is the word spoken. Let us hearken also, the merciless, and the cruel, for not to others are we cruel, but to ourselves. When then you are minded to be revengeful, consider that against yourself are you revengeful, not against another; that you are binding up your own sins, not your neighbors. For as to you, whatever you may do to this man, you do as a man and in the present life, but God not so, but more mightily will He take vengeance on you, and with the vengeance hereafter.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 61.4

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Building a Heritage

Psalm 127 is interesting because, on a surface reading, it is divided evenly between two separate themes. The first section addresses the building of houses and cities.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep. (Ps 127:1–2)
The second addresses the blessing of children.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (Ps 127:3–5)
At least this is the typical division of the psalm with the intent to bolster arguments for either building projects or large families. However, this misses the overall thrust—building a lasting heritage through the Lord’s enablement.

Solomon begins this psalm with an allusion from the building trades (possibly during the temple construction), wherein all the planning and craftsmanship come to naught if God is not the impetus. Without Him, every effort to establish a dwelling or fortified community will collapse regardless of the effort put forth to ensure longevity: it cannot hope to endure. With this basis, he turns to his main thrust: in the same manner that the Lord is necessary for building structures to create community, He is a vital ingredient for raising children.

Parents want their children to do well in justice, mercy, and walking before God when they are sent into the world to make their own way, therefore fathers and mothers, and grandparents secondarily, instill their experience and His Word into following generations. Children are arrows sent into the world: their effectiveness depends on how they are formed, notched, and aimed. Every step of the process has as a final goal to hit the mark, whether an animal for food or an adversary in war.

In order to build the next generation, we have the responsibility to provide for the family, to be engaged in productive work so that the family might have both food and shelter. While much (or most) of American society sees this as drudgery or a necessary evil, the Christian understands that work provides for a heritage. Solomon made this plain.
Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ec 5:18–20)
Work is a God-given gift bestowed at Creation (Ge 2:15) later made laborious because of Adam’s sin (Ge 3:17). As a result of its source, work retains the intrinsic quality of goodness, so that the final product or service becomes a reward for a job well done, especially so when the product or service might be exchanged or bartered to increase wealth in order to properly provide and leave an inheritance (Pr 13:22).

A heritage is received and sustained when the family is built on Scripture, raising children to fear Him, and putting one’s hand to the plow, distaff, workbench, keyboard, lesson plan, etc. fulfilling your vocation as spouse, parent, neighbor, or citizen. This is especially true when we consider that the most long-lasting inheritance is a spiritual one. Material goods and wealth will rust or rot despite our best efforts, but the spiritual component will abide long after our children’s children no longer walk this earth. It behooves us to remember that our family and possessions are gifts from the Lord. Let us build our heritage with Christ as the foundation.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Léonard Gaultier (c.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Himself and set him in their midst. He then said, “Amen, I tell you that unless you change and become as little children, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven. But whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:1–4)

The Lord teaches that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we revert to the nature of children, that is, we must recall into the simplicity of children the vices of the body and mind. He has called children all who believe through the faith of listening. For children follow their father, love their mother, do not know how to wish ill on their neighbor, show no concern for wealth, are not proud, do not hate, do not lie, believe what has been said and hold what they hear as truth. And when we assume this habit and will in all the emotions, we are shown the passageway to the heavens. We must therefore return to the simplicity of children, because with it we shall embrace the beauty of the Lord's humility.

Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew

Just as this child whose example I show you does not persist in anger, does not long remember injury suffered, is not enamored inordinately by the sight of a beautiful woman, does not think one thing and say another, so you too, unless you have similar innocence and purity of mind, will not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or it might be taken in another way: “Whoever therefore humiliates himself like this child is greater in the kingdom of heaven,” so as to imply that anyone who imitates Me and humiliates himself following My example, so that he abases himself as much as I abased Myself in accepting the form of a servant, will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Man Up! by Jeffrey Hemmer – Book Review

Hemmer, Jeffrey.  Man Up!: A Quest for Masculinity.  St. Louis, MO.  Concordia Publishing House, 2017.  224 pp.

Let me begin by saying that I want books that address manhood to succeed—I really do. My hopes are too often dashed by authors who do not understand biblical manhood, give advice based on cultural norms, or address personality caricatures and clichés. Thankfully, Pastor Jeff Hemmer avoids these pitfalls in a marvelous attempt to spur men to be genuinely masculine, rather than effeminate or hyper-macho—both being aberrations of the standard laid out from the sixth day of creation: provide, protect, and procreate.

Part 1 of the book addresses who and what man is in relation to God and woman, including his roles and responsibilities. This may seem elementary, but I was surprised by the amount of information found there from which I had never received instruction: a case in point is the meaning of malakoi (μαλακοὶ) in 1 Corinthians 6:9. There the word is translated in the NKJV as a sodomite, but Hemmer tells us the better translation is effeminate, or in other words, the opposite of masculine. He then addresses the work accomplished by Christ’s incarnation and death to deal with sin and Satan.

Part 2, then, seeks to define what God reclaimed for man by examining who Jesus was as the sole model of godly masculinity and God as the sole perfect Father. With these Hemmer effectively demonstrates what we are to be as husbands and fathers acknowledging both our shortcomings and His provision. He ends with suggestions for ordering our walk:
  • Pray (and sing) like a man
  • Love like a man
  • Give like a man
  • Fight like a man
  • Grow as a man
These cover the last two chapters and provide several practical ideas for properly ordering our lives.

I can say without reservation that this is the best work I have read on this subject. Buy and read this book.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, remember me, and visit me, and vindicate me before them that persecute me. Do not bear long with them; know how I have met with reproach for Your sake, from those who nullify Your words. Consume them, and Your word shall be to me for the joy and gladness of my heart. For Your name has been called upon me, O Lord Almighty. I have not sat in the assembly of them as they mocked, but I feared because of Your power. I sat alone, for I was filled with bitterness.Why do those that grieve me prevail against me? My wound is severe; when shall I be healed? It has indeed become to me as deceitful water that has no faithfulness. (Jer 15:15–18)

The wonderful apostles who were insulted many times for the truth say, "I am content with weaknesses, with insults and hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ." [2Co 12:10] I know that the basis of hardships is Christ when I am insulted only for nothing other than for Christ, when I am in hardships, when I am abused if I know that the cause of abuse is none other than that I am a champion for truth and am an ambassador for the Scriptures so that everything happens according to the Word of God. For this I am blasphemed. And thus let all of us, as far as our ability allows, strive for the prophetic life, for the apostolic life, not avoiding what is troublesome. For if the athlete avoids what is troublesome about the contest, the sweetness of the crown will never be his.

Origen, Homily on Jeremiah