Friday, March 16, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday in Lent

“Behold, days are coming,” says the Lord, “when I shall make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not according to the covenant I made with their fathers in the day I took hold of their hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not abide in My covenant, and I disregarded them,” says the Lord. “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will surely put My laws into their mind and write them on their hearts. I will be as God to them, and they shall be as My people. Each shall not teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their wrongdoings, and I will no longer remember their sins.” (Jer 31:31-34)

Obviously, those who have heard the gospel and refused to believe are all the more inexcusable than if they had not listened to any preaching of the truth. But it is certain that in God’s foreknowledge they were not children of Abraham and were not reckoned among the number of them of whom it is said, “In your seed all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed.” He promised them the faith when he said, “And no one shall teach his neighbor and no one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord.’ For all shall know me, from the small among them even to the great.” He promised them pardon when he said, “I will forgive their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” He promised them an obedient heart when he said, “I will give them another heart and another way, that they may fear me all days.” He promised them perseverance when he said, “I will give my fear in their heart, that they may not revolt from me, and I will visit them, that I may make them good.” Finally, to all without exception he promised the faith when he said, “I have sworn by myself, justice alone shall go out of my mouth, and my words shall not be turned away. Every knee shall be bowed to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

Prosper of Aquitane, The Call of All Nations 1.9

Friday, March 9, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Lent

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16–17)

Many of the more careless sort, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, saying: There is no hell, no future punishment. God forgives all our sins. To stop whose mouths a wise man says, “Do not say, ‘His compassion is great, He will atone for the multitude of my sins,’ for both mercy and wrath are with Him, and His anger rests on sinners” (Ecclus. 5:6); and again, “As great as His mercy, so great is also His reproof” (Ecclus. 16:12). “Where then,” says one, “is His lovingkindness, if we shall receive for our sins according to our desserts?” That we shall indeed receive “according to our desserts,” hear both the Prophet and Paul declare; one says, “You shall render to every man according to his work” (Ps. 62:12, LXX); the other, “Who will render to every man according to his work” (Rom. 2:6). And yet we may see that even so the lovingkindness of God is great. In dividing our existence into two periods, the present life and that which is to come, and making the first to be an appointment of trial, the second a place of crowning, even in this He has shown great lovingkindness.

“How and in what way?” Because when we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing of regeneration, and freely gave us righteousness and sanctification. “What then,” says one, “if a man who from his earliest age has been deemed worthy of the mysteries after this commits ten thousand sins?” Such a one deserves a severer punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins, if we do wrong after initiation. And this Paul declares, saying, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:28–29). Such a one then is worthy of severer punishment. Yet even for him God has opened doors of repentance and has granted him many means for the washing away his transgressions, if he will. Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are: by grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, “God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.”

For there are two advents of Christ, one past, the other to come. The first was not to judge but to pardon us; the second will be not to pardon but to judge us. It is of the first that he says, “I have not come to judge the world but to save the world.” But of the second he says, “When the Son shall come in the glory of his Father, He will set the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left.” And the sheep will go into life and the goats into eternal punishment. Yet His former coming was for judgment, according to the rule of justice. Why? Because before His coming there was a law of nature, and the prophets, and moreover a written Law, and doctrine, and ten thousand promises, and manifestations of signs, and chastisements, and vengeances, and many other things which might have set men right, and it followed that for all these things He would demand account; but because he is merciful, for a time he pardons instead of making enquiry. For if He had judged immediately, everyone would have been rushed into perdition, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Do you not see the unspeakable surplus of His lovingkindness?

John Chrysostom, Homilies on John 28.1

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Cure for What Ails

Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”… And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25–28, 34)

One cannot help but see every person’s desperate condition. This unnamed woman, through no fault of her own, bore a grievous burden that caused her to be unclean and separated her from those around. Every human avenue had been pursued to no avail, but nothing in this world could free her from suffering and bondage. She had neither access to God nor fellowship with His people. In effect, this woman had the same status as any Gentile: without Christ, alien from God’s people and provision, and stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12).

But then she does the remarkable: she acts in faith to gain the only One who could heal what was ailing her as Peter Chrysologous recounts:
No seas were ever so troubled by the ebb and flow of the tide, as the mind of this woman, pulled to and fro by the sway of her thoughts. After all the hopeless attempts of physicians, after all her outlay on useless remedies, after all the usual but useless treatment, when skill and experience had so long failed, all her substance was gone. This was not by chance, but divinely ordered, that she might be healed solely through faith and humility, whom human knowledge had failed through so many years. At a little distance apart from Him stood this woman, whom nature had filled with modesty, whom the law had declared unclean, saying of her: She shall be unclean and shall touch no holy thing [Lev 15:25]. She fears to touch, lest she incur the anger of the religious leaders, or the condemnation of the law. For fear of being talked about, she dares not speak, lest she embarrass those about her, lest she offend their ears. Through many years her body has been an arena of suffering. Everyday, unceasing pain she can endure no more. The Lord is passing by so quickly. The time is short to think what she must do, aware that healing is not given to the silent, nor to the one who hides her pain. In the midst of her conflicting thoughts, she sees a way, her sole way of salvation. She would secure her healing by stealth, take in silence what she dares not ask for, guarding her respect and modesty. She who feels unworthy in body, draws near in heart to the Physician. In faith she touches God. With her hand she touches His garment, knowing that both healing and forgiveness may be bestowed on this stratagem, undertaken due to the demands of modesty, and not as she otherwise would have preferred. She knew the gain she sought by stealth would cause no loss to Him from whom she took it.… In an instant, faith cures where human skill had failed through twelve years. (Sermon 33.4)
Notice the change. Once an outsider, this one is called daughter. She who had been separate from any benefit that may come to God’s people is now in a covenantal, familial relationship. No longer on the outside looking in, she now has full benefit as a fellow heir of the promises of blessing to Abraham, drawing close to worship and fellowship with God’s people.

What might be the most remarkable takeaway from this story might be that every person coming into this world has the same basic condition—hopeless and without God. Our natural inclination is to turn to the wisdom found in this world to find a cure for our condition, yet none can be found. We might be able to ease it somewhat with a salve applied to the conscience, but our condition continues to deteriorate. There is but one Great Physician who can heal the whole person. His cure cannot be earned or purchased. Only by grace through faith might we receive what Christ has so richly provided by taking our greatest ailment, sin, upon Himself and in exchange bestowing on us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3). This is where true healing occurs.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday in Lent

The law of the Lord is blameless, converting souls;
The testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making children wise;
The ordinances of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is bright, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring unto ages of ages;
The judgments of the Lord are true, being altogether just.
More to be desired are they than gold and a very precious stone,
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
For indeed Your servant keeps them;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who will understand his transgressions?
Cleanse me from hidden sins,
And spare your servant from unnatural sins;
If they have no dominion over me, then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be cleansed from great sin.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be always pleasing before You,
O Lord, my helper and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:7–14)

He calls the Mosaic law Law, testimony, judgments, command, decrees: this is what the Law calls itself, saying in one place, “These are the judgments and the decrees the Lord gave to Moses,” and elsewhere, “You will keep the Law of the Lord your God and observe His commandments.” It is called Law in that it regulates and prescribes the best way of life; testimony in testifying against sinners and highlighting the punishment for transgression; judgments in teaching what is right, forbidding what is wrong and declaring virtuous people righteous; command in commanding what is to be done and giving orders authoritatively; decrees in revealing the divine verdicts and teaching what goods the observant will enjoy and to what punishments the transgressor will be consigned.

So he means that the Law of God, being free of every fault, corrects people’s souls and makes them faultless; the testimony gives wisdom to the immature and simple by frightening them; the judgments gladden the heart by revealing the basis of judgment; the command gives light to the mind’s eye, teaching what constitutes service to the God of all. While piety and the fear of God, in suggesting observance of these, procure enjoyment of the eternal good, it was right for him to speak of the fear of God as pure—that is, free from blame—for the reason that human fear is blameworthy, being synonymous with dread. Now, he called the decrees true and justified on account of their conferring on people both honors and warranted punishments. In conclusion, he said these are worth more than gold and precious stones and sweeter than honey—not to all human beings, however, but to those truly human, whose life is not comparable with the brute beasts.

Your servant, in fact, will keep them. Be clearer in teaching what benefits come from it: abundant the repayment for keeping them. A wonderful reward, he is saying, is laid up for those choosing to keep them. And because he claimed to keep the decrees of God, calling to mind human weakness and considering the arrogance of the claim, he immediately added, Who will understand faults? Purify me from my hidden ones: even if I intend with great enthusiasm to keep God’s commands, I am dragged down by natural weakness to many faults against my will; some faults I commit in ignorance, some when overcome by the onset of circumstances. And even if I avoid sin in deed, thoughts fill me with every defilement. Hence, I beseech You, who are able to purify me, and I cry out.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 19.5–7

Friday, February 23, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday in Lent

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)

What does this mean, “take up a cross”? It means he will bear with whatever is troublesome, and in this very act he will be following Me. When he has begun to follow Me according to My teaching and precepts, he will find many people contradicting him and standing in his way, many who not only deride but even persecute him. Moreover, this is true, not only of pagans who are outside the church, but also of those who seem to be in it visibly but are outside of it because of the perversity of their deeds. Although these glory in merely the title of Christian, they continually persecute faithful Christians. Such belong to the members of the church in the same way that bad blood is in the body. Therefore, if you wish to follow Christ, do not delay in carrying His cross; tolerate sinners, but do not yield to them. Do not let the false happiness of the wicked corrupt you. You do well to despise all things for the sake of Christ, in order that you may be fit for His companionship.

Caesarius of Arles, Sermons 159.5

Friday, February 16, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday in Lent

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. (Mk 1:9–13)

Because all that Christ did and suffered was for our teaching, He began after His baptism to dwell in the wilderness, and fought against the devil, that every baptized person might patiently sustain greater temptations after His baptism, nor be troubled, as if this which happened to Him was contrary to His expectation, but might bear up against all things, and come off conqueror. And the reason why He does not simply say that He went into the wilderness, but was driven, is that you may understand that it was done according to the word of Divine Providence. By which also He shows that no man should thrust himself into temptation, but that those who from some other state are as it were driven into temptation, remain conquerors.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew 13

But He retires into the desert that He may teach us that, leaving the allurements of the world, and the company of the wicked, we should in all things obey the Divine commands. He is left alone and tempted by the devil, that He might teach us, “that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;” from which it follows, “And He was in the wilderness forty days and forty nights, and was tempted of Satan.” But He was tempted forty days and forty nights that He might show us that as long as we live here and serve God, whether prosperity smile upon us, which is meant by the day, or adversity smite us, which agrees with the figure of night, at all times our adversary is at hand, who ceases not to trouble our way by temptations. For “the forty days and forty nights” imply the whole time of this world, for the globe in which we are serving God is divided into four quarters. There follows, “and He was with the wild beasts.”

Consider also that Christ dwells among the wild beasts as man, but, as God, uses the ministry of Angels. Thus, when in the solitude of a holy life we bear with unpolluted mind the bestial manners of men, we merit to have the ministry of Angels, by whom, when freed from the body, we shall be transferred to everlasting happiness.

Venerable Bede, On Mark 1.5

Friday, February 9, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking Forward to the Transfiguration

Titian, “Transfiguration”
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.

And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves. Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:2–9)

He disclosed, it is said, a little of the Godhead. He manifested to them the God dwelling among them …. How did He shine? Tell me. Exceedingly. And how do you express this? He shone as the sun. As the sun, you say? Yes. Why the sun? Because I do not know any other luminary more brilliant. And He was white you say as snow? Why as snow? Because I do not know any other substance which is whiter. For that He did not really shine thus is proved by what follows: the disciples fell to the ground. If he had shone as the sun the disciples would not have fallen, for they saw the sun every day and did not fall. But inasmuch as he shone more brilliantly than the sun or snow, they, being unable to bear the splendor, fell to the earth.

John Chrysostom, Eutropius and the Vanity of Riches, Homily 2.10

The Lord who is beyond measure
measures out nourishment to all,
adapting to our eyes the sight of himself,
to our hearing his voice,
His blessing to our appetite,
His wisdom to our tongue.

Ephrem the Syrian
Hymns on Paradise 9.27

Friday, February 2, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

For why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, saying, “My way is hidden from God, and my God took away my judgment and departed”? So then, have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the God who created the ends of the earth, neither hungers nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives strength to the hungry, and sorrow to those who do not grieve. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the elect shall be without strength. But those who wait on God shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not hunger. (Is 40:27–31 LXX)

According to the same word, then, it seems that the youths and the young and those who have arrived at manhood are able to work through weakness, although surrounded by various calamities and diseases, but myriads who were vigorous and swift in their youth he prepared to put to death. And he did not fall to the depths of old age, although driven to extreme poverty so that he could not even find daily food. But once again he did away once and for all with the others who had boasted in riches and glory among people. But then again, those who wait for God during the period of their persecutions, although they are weak and pitiful according to the standards of this present life, they are deemed worthy of divine transformation, so that they are not only calm and free, but they shall grow wings like eagles, and they will fly away and be lifted up high and soar through the air, and finally set out on their journey into the heavens. For the nature of eagles is fallen from heaven, but they alone are able to drink in the light of the sun. And, therefore, it is in these flashings that those who wait for God are comparable to eagles, although from a human standpoint they were homeless and with no place to rest and hopeless and distressed by anxiety during the times of their persecution in this mortal life. And, therefore, after being deemed worthy by God of the visitation of exceeding afflictions, they lived their lives in peace and grew wings like eagles, and they were raised up into the heights. And if it shall happen that just as those who contend and overcome in their testimony to godliness are made perfect, how much more appropriate for them is the promise that says: But those who wait for God shall renew their strength. And, therefore, exchanging mortal life for the angelic life and preparing themselves for the heavenly journey, they shall grow wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not hunger, or according to the other Greek translations, they shall not faint. Therefore, if He shall grant such transformations to those who wait for Him, He will also repay those who do the opposite with punishments, partially during the present life but to the fullest during the time of judgment. How dare you then—you who are called “Jacob” and “Israel” and who have been instructed in the divine words—how dare you say among yourselves that “your way was hidden from God, and your judgment has been taken away, and he has withdrawn”?

Eusebius of Caesarea, Commentary on Isaiah

Friday, January 26, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Salvatore Fiume, Jesus Casts Out Demons
The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. (De 18:15–20)

It is written in Deuteronomy, “Your God will raise up a prophet like me for you from your brothers. You shall hear him; and it shall be that every soul which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from his people.” Therefore some prophet was specially expected who would be similar to Moses in some respect, to mediate between God and humanity, and who would receive the covenant from God and give the new covenant to those who became disciples. And the people of Israel knew so far as each of the prophets was concerned that no one of them was the One announced by Moses.

Origen of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John 6.8

Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee. (Mark 1:21–28)

Yes, even the demons exclaimed, on beholding the Son: “We know who You are, the Holy One of God.” And the devil looking at Him, and tempting Him, said: “If You are the Son of God;”—all thus indeed seeing and speaking of the Son and the Father, but all not believing. For it was fitting that the truth should receive testimony from all, and should become judgment for the salvation indeed of those who believe, but for the condemnation of those who believe not; that all should be fairly judged, and that the faith in the Father and Son should be approved by all, that is, that it should be established by all, receiving testimony from all, both from those belonging to it, since they are its friends, and by those having no connection with it, though they are its enemies. For that evidence is true, and cannot be gainsaid, which elicits even from its adversaries striking testimonies in its behalf; they being convinced with respect to the matter in hand by their own plain contemplation of it, and bearing testimony to it, as well as declaring it.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.6.6–7

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Soil Cultivation

“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.” And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 4:3-9)

I enjoy good teaching that leaves me thinking more on the material just reviewed. This past Sunday, our pastor taught on the Parable of Sower/Soils (depending on which title you prefer) from Mark 4:1-20, making the following useful analogy between the soils and men's hearts:
  • Hard soil = hard heart
  • Rocky soil = shallow heart
  • Thorny soil = cluttered heart
  • Good soil = open heart
He then followed up with a series of questions, but the first got my attention: How’s your heart? This got me to thinking: following the theme of the parable, can the soil be made more useful, and whose job is it to improve it?

Logically, it is not as though soil would ever receive only one planting. Farmers, as long as they are working a field, do what they can to improve their soil to gain a better harvest. We recognize, therefore, that since God is the Sower, He is the cultivator of the soil as Clement of Alexandria notes:
Finally there is only one cultivator of the soil of the human soul. It is the One who from the beginning, from the foundations of the world, has been sowing living seeds by which all things grow. In each age the Word has come down upon all like rain. But the times and places which received these gifts account for the differences which exist. (Stromateis 1.7)
It is He who alone has the ability to improve the soil. As the land is worked, there would be opportunity to remove thorns and rocks, and break up ground that had formerly been tamped down through constant wear. Over and again He sows the Word in order that previously poor ground might provide a yield, even as John Chrysostom writes:
For it is the way of the Lord never to stop sowing the seed, even when He knows beforehand that some of it will not respond. But how can it be reasonable, one asks, to sow among the thorns, or on the rock, or alongside the road? Maybe it is not reasonable insofar as it pertains only to seeds and earth, for the bare rock is not likely to turn into tillable soil, and the roadside will remain roadside and the thorns, thorns. But in the case of free wills and their reasonable instruction, this kind of sowing is praiseworthy. For the rocky soul can in time turn into rich soil. Among souls, the wayside may come no longer to be trampled by all that pass, and may become a fertile field. The thorns may be destroyed and the seed enjoy full growth. For had this not been impossible, this Sower would not have sown. And even if no change whatever occurs in the soul, this is no fault of the Sower, but of those who are unwilling to be changed. He has done his part. (Homilies on Matthew 44.5.1)
All this work does not happen immediately. The Holy Spirit is a chief worker in our souls as He broods or hovers over us in preparation of life. He cultivates us so that the seed, the Word of God, which is quick and powerful may cause growth. In addition, it is not as we are unwilling recipients. As opposed to inanimate ground, we respond to the working of the Word and Holy Spirit. True, it may be that the hard, rocky, or thorny heart might be more so in turning away from Sower, however, Augustine had better considerations as he exhorted:
Work diligently the soil while you may. Break up your fallow with the plow. Cast away the stones from your field, and dig out the thorns. Be unwilling to have a “hard heart,” such as makes the Word of God of no effect. Be unwilling to have a “thin layer of soil,” in which the root of divine love can find no depth in which to enter. Be unwilling to “choke the good seed” by the cares and the lusts of this life, when it is being scattered for your good. When God is the sower and we are the ground, we are called to work to be good ground. (Sermons on New Testament Lessons 73.3)
A final question the pastor had was, “How’s your heart?” Or to amend it for my purposes, “Have you taken a soil sample recently?” Let us not be like those who fall away, but instead let us receive the seed for our benefit both now and at the Last Day.
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Heb 6:7–8)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Third Sunday after Epiphany

And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. And immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him. (Mark 1:16–20)

Reflect on the nature and grandeur of the one Almighty God who could associate Himself with the poor of the lowly fisherman’s class. To use them to carry out God’s mission baffles all rationality. For having conceived the intention, which no one ever before had done, of spreading His own commands and teachings to all nations, and of revealing Himself as the teacher of the religion of the one Almighty God to all humanity, He thought good to use the most rustic and common people as ministers of his own design, because maybe God just wanted to work in the most unlikely way. For how could inarticulate folk be made able to teach, even if they were appointed teachers to only one person, much less to a multitude? How should those who were themselves without education instruct the nations?

But this was surely the manifestation of the divine will and of the divine power working in them. For when He called them, the first thing He said to them was "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." And when He had thus acquired them as followers, He breathed into them His divine power, He filled them with strength and bravery, and like a true Word of God and as God Himself, the doer of such great wonders, He made them hunters of rational souls, adding power to His words: “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” With this empowerment God sent them forth to be workers and teachers of holiness to all the nations, declaring them heralds of His own teaching.

Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 3.7

Friday, January 12, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:47–49)

He praises and approves the man because he had said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” And yet, shouldn’t have Jesus rather found fault in him? Surely not; for the words are not those of an unbeliever or one deserving blame, but praise. How can you say that? Because Nathanael had considered the writings of the prophets more than Philip. For he had heard from the Scriptures that Christ must come from Bethlehem, and from the village in which David was. This belief at least prevailed among the Jews, and the prophet had proclaimed it of old.… And so when he heard that Jesus was “from Nazareth,” he was confounded and doubted, not finding the announcement of Philip to agree with the prediction of the prophet.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John

[Nathanael] knows that God alone searches the heart and gives to no other man the ability to know the mind. He is probably thinking of the passage in the Psalms, “O God, who tests the hearts and inward parts” [Ps 7:9; see also Ps 139:1–3]. The psalmist assigns this special quality too to the divine nature alone, taking the position that it does not belong to anyone else. Therefore, when he realizes that the Lord saw his suspicion while it was still turning around in his mind in voiceless whispers, he immediately calls Him “teacher.” Already entering eagerly into discipleship under Him, he confesses Him to be Son of God and king of Israel who has the properties of divinity. As one who is well-instructed, he maintains that this One is certainly God by nature.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cutting a Musical Covenant

Illustration of Asa destroying the idols, in the Bible Historiale, 1372.
 Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and rams’ horns. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around. (2 Chr 15:14–15)

Over the weekend, I read a piece by Peter Leithart entitled “Musical Oath.” The setting is Asa’s reforms in Judah after receiving a word from the Lord through the prophet Azariah, the son of Oded. Asa showed himself to be a good king—cleaning up the idolatry (removing altars, high places, altars, and images), rebuilding cities, and relying on the Lord to defeat the Ethiopians (2 Chronicles 14). The prophet came to Asa with the promise of God’s peace and favor if the king continued to follow faithfully. This he did by further cleaning up idolatry, restoring the altar to its rightful place, and calling the people before the Lord in Jerusalem.

With the background set, we turn to the gist of Leithart’s article. As a result of all the Lord had strengthened the people to do, they returned sacrifices and an oath as part of the worship. It is here that a connection is made concerning the oath and how it was offered. Per Leithart:
Verse 14 says that they made the oath “with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets, and with horns.” Music expresses and enhances the joy of the occasion (v. 15), Judah’s joy in their own oath-taking and God-seeking, their joy in the fact that God allows Himself to be found.

But verse 14 indicates a more intimate link between music and the covenant oath. They swear to Yahweh with a fourfold sound – voice, shouting, trumpets, horns. It’s a musical covenant-making.
Let that sink in a minute. What the people of Judah offered in response to all the Lord’s goodness and provision was not a lighthearted musical ditty; neither was it a raucous, triumphalist fight song. What they offered up was an oath, a solemn declaration, “to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.” This was an intentional and determined desire by the people to follow the Lord according to His laws and commands with the result that “He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.” What is our goal for Sunday singing? Do we desire to simply set a proper atmosphere for the experience, or are we intent on holding fast to His revelation and expectation?

One cannot help but wonder whether or not we understand the serious nature of our Sunday morning music. To that end, I leave you with Peter Leithart’s closing remarks:
Think of that next time you open your mouth to sing at church. You’re not just expressing your joy in the Lord, though you are doing that. The music doesn’t exist only to enhance or elicit joy, though it does that.

Your singing is an oath-by-sacrifice, a commitment of body and soul to seek the Lord with everything you’ve got.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Jesus' Baptism

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Ro 6:9-11)

And stretching forth slowly his right hand, which seemed both to tremble and to rejoice, John baptized the Lord. Then his detractors who were present, with those in the vicinity and those from a distance, connived together, and spoke among themselves asking: “Was John then superior to Jesus? Was it without cause that we thought John greater, and does not his very baptism attest this? Is not he who baptizes presented as the greater, and he who is baptized as the less important?” But just as they, in their ignorance of the mystery of the divine economy, babbled about with each other, the Holy One who alone is Lord spoke. He who by nature is the Father of the only begotten (who alone was begotten in unblemished fashion) instantly rectified their blunted imaginations. He opened the gates of the heavens and sent down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, lighting upon the head of Jesus, pointing him out right there as the new Noah, even the maker of Noah, and the good pilot of the nature which is in shipwreck. And he himself calls with clear voice out of heaven, and says: “This is my beloved Son,”—Jesus, not John: the One baptized, and not the one baptizing; the One who was begotten of me before all time, and not the one who was begotten of Zechariah; the One who was born of Mary after the flesh, and not the one who was brought forth by Elizabeth beyond all expectation; the One who was the fruit of the virginity which he yet preserved intact, not the one who was the shoot from a sterility removed; the One who had his encounter with you, and not the one brought up in the wilderness. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: my Son, of the same substance with myself, and not of a different; of the same essence with me according to what is unseen, and of the same essence with you according to what is seen, yet without sin.

Gregory Thaumaturgus, On the Holy Theophany, or Of Christ’s Baptism