Encountering the Savior in and through a “Rule of Life” and the “Witnesses”

The “rule of life” is not magic. It can hinder our journey of theosis as much as it can foster it. The key is the attitude of the believer not regarding one thing but several things. We hear in the gospel today of the Pharisees. They certainly had a “rule of life.” They spent time in daily prayer consistently. What is more, they were dedicated to reading and reflecting on the “word of God” on a daily basis. They were faithful tithers, almsgivers, and practiced a lifestyle of fasting. They were dedicated to the growth and development of life and ministry of the synagogue and temple of which they were members.

According to Jesus, not only in today’s reading but on a number of other occasions, their “rule of life” was for naught. It did not count for anything.

Where does this point us? Do we conclude that a “rule of life” is the enemy of spiritual growth and transformation? Some Christians have, over the centuries, basically concluded that very thing in some shape or form. Indeed, I would contend, it is one of the most fundamental causes of visible division in the Church. I have attended gatherings where there was a lot of “scriptural searching” and “leadings” and “intense praying” but not a lot of Christ. (Hey, I am willing to admit it might have been me who was out of sync. and not seeking Christ but power or approval.)

So, if all of this is not about a “thumbs up or down” regarding the form our everyday life in Christ take vis-a-vis a rule of life, then what is it about?? It is about the witness of truth in and through form and content. It is about thinking that form can achieve transformation without the proper content. It is also about thinking that content can achieve transformation without the proper form (more of a tricky and subtle trap for the Protestant). It is about seeking and finding (and being found and encountered by) Christ in and through the rule of life that is a dynamic union of form and content engaged in with humility (a genuine desire to know Christ) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is about living in the midst of and heeding the faithful witnesses to the Way, Truth, and Life – Christ Jesus.

Here is a wonderful reflection by Don Schwager to which I have added a quote from the Rule of St. Benedict. It touches on a couple of the points I have articulated.

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; 8 they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, `These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; 10 now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation.”

11 But Moses begged the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, `With evil intent did he bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, `I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.'” 14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.

Psalm 106:19-23
19 They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a molten image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them — had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

Gospel Reading:  John 5:31-47
31 If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; 32 there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen; 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent.

39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from men. 42 But I know that you have not the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. 44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Meditation: Do you know the joy of the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – and a life freely submitted to the wisdom and knowledge of God’s word? Jesus’ opponents refused to accept his authority to speak and act in the name of God. And they refused to believe that he was sent from the Father in heaven. They demanded evidence for his claim to be equal with God. Jesus answers their charges with the supporting evidence of witnesses. The law of Moses had laid down the principle that the unsupported evidence of one person shall not prevail against a man for any crime or wrong in connection with any offence he committed (see Deuteronomy 17:6). At least two or three witnesses were needed.

Witnesses to Jesus’ true identity
Jesus begins his defense by citing John the Baptist as a witness, since John publicly pointed to Jesus as the Messiah and had repeatedly borne witness to him (see John 1:19, 20, 26, 29, 35, 36). Jesus also asserts that a greater witness to his identity and equality with God the Father are the signs and miracles he performed. He cites his works, not to point to himself but to point to the power of God the Father working in and through him. He cites God the Father as his supreme witness.

Jesus asserts that the Scriptures themselves, including the first five books of Moses, point to him as the

Messiah, the promised Savior. The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was that they did not believe what Moses had written. They desired the praise of their own people and since they were so focused on themselves, they became blindsighted to God. They were so preoccupied with their own position as authorities and interpreters of the law that they became hardened and unable to understand the word of God. Their pride made them deaf to God’s voice.

God reveals himself to the lowly of heart
Scripture tells us that God reveals himself to the lowly, to those who trust not in themselves but in God alone. The lowly of heart listen to God’s word with an eagerness to learn and to obey. The Lord Jesus reveals to us the very mind and heart of God. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit he opens our ears so that we may hear his voice and he fills our hearts and minds with the love and knowledge of God. Do you believe that God’s word has power to set you free from sin and ignorance and to transform you to be like him?

Saint Augustine of Hippo (430-543 A.D.) wrote:

“As Christians, our task is to make daily progress toward God. Our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher, and it demands good students, not ones who play truant. In this school we learn something every day. We learn something from commandments, something from examples, and something from sacraments. These things are remedies for our wounds and materials for study.”

Daily Quote for Lent:

Christ is our Master who teaches us, by Augustine of Hippo, A.D. 430-543
“There is a Master within Who teaches us. Christ is our Master, and his inspiration and his anointing teaches us. Where his inspiration and his anointing are lacking, it is in vain that words resound in our ears. As Paul the Apostle said: ‘I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.’ Therefore, whether we plant or whether we water by our words, we are nothing. It is God Who gives the increase; His anointing teaches you all things.” (excerpt from Sermon on 1 John 3,13)

The fellowship of the faithful in the Spirit is a school for transformation and service, by St. Benedict, A.D. 480-543
“And so we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14). For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love. Thus, never departing from His school, but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching until death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13) and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.” (excerpt from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict)

 Source and credits: www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager © 2014 Servants of the Word


“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?!”

The gospel reading in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Eucharistic lectionaries is John 10:22-30.

“The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’ (Jn. 10.22-30)

The question that the opponents/critics of Jesus were asking was, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” I could distance myself from THAT question and say, “At least I know THAT much. Those poor, pitiful, misguided Jewish leaders. Why couldn’t they SEE what was SO obvious?!”

But, if I am really honest, I need to consider where the question, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” is present in my life.

Honestly, I find myself asking that question quite often. Jesus has a tendency to “push my passion buttons” For example, my over active “need to know” and use of that knowledge as my source of security in the midst of difficult circumstances. Contrast that need with the invitation and challenge to do what He says and trust Him for the “results.” I am one of opponents and critics of Jesus when I demand (subtly of course) that He play according to MY rules of timing, results, approval, success, etc.

Jesus answers His critics by saying, “I told you …” What?! The fact is Jesus DOES tell me He is the Messiah. He tells me MORE than enough to satisfy genuine faith. But, He is telling me in ways that refuse to satisfy my “passions.”

What are the passions? They are those drives or needs, sin and death active within me that deny the Lordship of Christ and desire to keep me off track in my discipleship. They war against the work of the Holy Spirit. And, when I am living, asking, and seeking to hear the voice of God from the place of my passions, I don’t hear it. The passions are the opponents/critics of Jesus that roam around inside me asking questions of Jesus that sound like a desire to continue to acknowledge His Lordship but are, in reality, looking for ways to effectively deny His Lordship in how I live my everyday life.

There is a sense in which my question, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” is really a question about the Lordship of Christ Jesus in my life. In other words, “If you are the Messiah, then act like one by telling me everything I BELIEVE I NEED to know in this circumstance.” I think that is exactly what I am doing – doubting His Lordship. IS He my Messiah/Lord when I am unwilling to obey/follow Him without “knowing everything” or, at least, the amount I THINK is reasonable for Him to tell me?? Today’s passage is about testifying to the Lordship of Jesus in those times when a greater degree of trust is required of me by the Lord God. The Holy Spirit makes no compromise or peace with the passions. His desire is to seek and destroy them, especially in the midst of difficult circumstances when my passions are most obviously active and the stakes are the highest in my life and the life of others.

The urge to ask Jesus, in the heat of the difficult circumstance, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (and, I would add, from John 6.30, “… what sign do you do, that (I) may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?”) betrays a need, on my part to repent. It is an opportunity to turn my self-centered question into a true yearning for the Lord to powerfully act in whatever way is suitable to accomplish His purposes, so I might rejoice in the revelation of His glory.

Fr. Thomas