When I first began to wander into the historic Church, one of the things I had to get used to was a lectionary. For my self sufficient, individualistic Protestant mindset, I was sure I didn’t need anyone to tell me what I should be reading from the Bible and when. But then I began to pay attention to the readings and I saw something amazing.
I began to see the Bible as a whole. Now yes, I had known that for awhile but we get lost sometimes I think in our “Bible reading plan.” We forget that the Old Testament and the New Testament are two sides to the same coin. I believe it was St. Augustine who said,
“The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
If we view this from a Christological standpoint (as we should when we come to ALL of Holy Scripture), then one could say that, in the OT we see Christ concealed or foreshadowed and in the NT we see Christ revealed.
I find such great richness in reading Holy Scripture this way, seeing it all as one organic whole.
Today’s readings for Mass illustrated this perfectly. The Old Testament lesson (reading) is from 1 Kings 19:9-13. I want us to consider verses 9 through the end of the chapter. You can go and read that now before proceeding. Elijah has just hiked for 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.
The place is super important in the Bible. This is the mountain where the law was given to the people of God who had just left slavery in Egypt. This is the mountain where God had revealed Himself to both Moses and the people of Israel. This is where Elijah has come. And why has he come?
He came to complain.
Look at the text. God asks Elijah what he’s doing there. Elijah replies by complaining. He basically says, “Look, I’ve been faithful. I’ve done what you asked me to do. But everyone else has abandoned you, no one worships you anymore. I’m the only one left and they want to kill me.”
And what does God say? He says, “Go out and stand on the mountain.” So Elijah does. The Scripture tells that a strong wind tore the mountain, breaking rocks before the Lord. An earthquake shook the mountain and fire scorched everything in sight. But the Lord was not in the wind or the quake or the fire. Then Elijah hears a whisper, a still small voice and he recognizes that Voice. He wraps his face in his cloak and goes out to hear what God will say.
Now, let’s skip to the gospel reading for the day. St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 14, verses 22-33. Go and read that before proceeding.
Jesus was also on a mountain, but praying, not complaining. When He comes down, the boat that His disciples took is a long way from shore and a wind has come up. Sound familiar?
So Jesus saunters up the boat…on the water. And, rightly so, the disciples are terrified. But, Jesus speaks. He speaks over the wind, telling them not to be afraid and assuring them that it is He. Then something really crazy happens. Peter says, in essence, “Jesus, I want you to prove that it’s you and I’m not seeing things. If it’s you, command me to come out to you on the water.”
In my mind, when I close my eyes and put myself there, I believe Jesus whispered. I believe His voice was so soft, so quiet in the chaos of the moment, with the wind howling and waves crashing. But Peter heard Him. Peter heard the whisper and he knew that voice.
That was the voice of God-in-the-flesh. That was the voice of One who walked on water, that was the voice of the One who had healed the sick and cleansed the lepers. That was the voice that Peter would follow forever.
So Peter steps out and walks on water. But it didn’t take long for Peter to fear. It didn’t take long for what was going on around Peter to distract him, to cause his faith to waver.
Elijah had the same problem. Elijah was discouraged and afraid. Elijah was distracted by the faithlessness of the people around him and it caused his faith to waver.
But here’s where we have hope.
That voice still speaks. That still, small whisper that spoke to Eiljah still speaks. If you read the rest of the chapter, God tells Elijah that there are thousands more like him, thousands more who are faithful.
That voice still speaks. That calm, still voice still beckons Peter from the boat and tells him not to be afraid. ‘Don’t be distracted. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t be faithless.’
All of Holy Scripture, all of life is about Jesus, the Christ of God. God-in-the-flesh has come. He still speaks to us, even when our faith is weak. He still speaks amidst the chaos of our world; not in the crashing of the wind and rocks tearing up around us, nor in the fire that seems to burn our very world away, nor in the crashing waves or rushing winds of the storm. He still speaks in that still, small voice, beckoning us to follow, be faithful, step out and fear not. When we are faithless, He is faithful.
He is faithful.
He is faithful.
Amen and amen!
It’s funny to me how things happen sometimes. Maybe funny isn’t the right word. Ironic is a better word. It’s ironic to me how things happen sometimes. I asked for suggestions on what to write about and two people suggested I write about things revolving around sin.
Here’s where irony comes in.
I’m doing an in-depth study right now through the gospel of Luke, while listening to a podcast, clearly a Sunday School type class, of an Orthodox priest teaching through the same. It’s been really good so far.
So yesterday, two people suggest I write about sin and this morning, the text covered was Luke 7:36-50. Take some time before continuing to read this text, ‘cause I’m not going to quote the whole thing. So, after going through this text this morning, I was struck by a couple of things. I was struck by the fact that I am much less like the woman and much more like the Pharisee in this story. And I was struck by the tender love and mercy of our Lord.
Let me explain.
Simon, our Pharisee in this story, is hosting Jesus for dinner. A word about Pharisees before we proceed, since we see them featured so prominently in the gospels. I don’t think the Pharisees were evil dudes. Granted, the murder of our Lord was at the hand of the Romans at the behest of the Pharisees and others in the ruling religious elite of Israel at the time. Having said that, I still don’t think the Pharisees were all evil dudes. They were, in the best way they knew how at the time, genuinely trying to serve God and obey His commands.
Yes of course they made up more rules than the Torah did and of course they missed the boat when it came to Jesus. But they weren’t just being mean. They were actually trying to follow God’s commands. Granted, they went a little overboard but they were trying, which is more than can be said for most of the Gentiles at the time.
Where things went sideways with the Pharisees, especially this one in this text, is that they began to believe that, because they were so good at keeping the rules, they didn’t need a Saviour. Why would they need some dirt poor peasant from Nazareth preaching to them when they had it all figured out? I mean, they were really good at following the rules.
The problem was is that their legalism had led them to pride. At least, it certainly did for Simon in this text. See, he didn’t invite Jesus over for dinner because he wanted to sit at His feet and learn and worship. He invited Jesus over because he wanted to find a way to discredit Him. Simon was motivated by pride.
Contrast that with this woman. We are never given her name. All we know is that Luke says she was a “woman of the city, who was a sinner.” A pretty vague description, don’t you think? But here’s what we do know about her. She stood behind Jesus’ feet. She wouldn’t even look Him in the eyes, probably never even looked up. Instead, she groveled at the feet of Jesus. She wept. In fact, she wept so much that she soaked Jesus’ feet. In fact, she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Her hair, ya’ll. Then she kissed his feet and anointed Him with fragrant ointment.
Ever wonder how awkward this encounter was for everyone in the room? I mean, don’t you think it got awfully quiet while this was going on?
Notice Simon’s pride. He thinks to himself, “If this dude were really who everyone says he is…and who he says he is, he would know who this woman is and wouldn’t be hanging around with her.”
Here’s more irony. Jesus reads Simon’s mind. Look at the text. Verse 39 says he thought it. It’s ironic that, when Jesus then speaks to Simon about what Simon is thinking about, Simon doesn’t even seem to realize that Jesus just read his mind. Ironic, isn’t it?
But here is where we see the tender mercy of Jesus, even for this arrogant legalist. Jesus calls him by name. He says, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He doesn’t berate him, even though He has read his mind and knows his arrogance. He doesn’t even call him a white-washed tomb or anything like that. He calls him by his name and tells him a story to point out to him where his own faith has fallen short. How tender and merciful our Lord is, even to those of us who are arrogant. See, Simon had a lot of knowledge about God. He knew the Torah and was faithful to follow it. But, Simon needed to learn something else.
Knowledge doesn’t trump humility.
Then, Jesus turns to the woman and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Oh, how tender our Lord is!
So, let me ask you…
Are you more like Simon or the woman? I have to admit that I am far too often like Simon. I pray (twice) daily and read the Scriptures. I go to Mass (when we’re not quarantined). I follow the rules (mostly) and I have a lot of theological knowledge. But, can I just confess something?
I don’t remember the last time I wept over my sins.
The grace of our Lord extends to all, even those of us whom have not recently (or ever) wept over our sins. The grace of God extends even to Simon and all the other legalists out there.
Would you join me in praying that the Spirit would break our hearts for our sins? Would you join me in falling at the feet of Jesus and, by His mercy, hearing those wonderful words:
“Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Maybe what we need is a lot more humility and a lot less hubris.