Sunday, February 16, 2014


'A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter."

The Law of Moses forbade anyone to touch a leper, for they were unclean (Lev. 5:3). Yet the Lord Jesus touches this leper, and in so doing He cleanses the leper from his leprosy. Has the Lord broken the Law? No. Why? Because the one that touches the leper shares in his uncleanness, is made unclean by it, and becomes guilty for failing to preserve himself in purity. Does Christ become unclean? No, but rather His purity overcomes the uncleanness of the leper to make him clean and pure. If anyone else had touched the leper, he or she would be subject to the infection, corruption, and disease that comes from mingling with what is unclean (in this case, leprosy). Why? Because anyone else is born into the world under the sway of the devil, whose power over us is death. And the sting of death - the sting that we are stung with - is sin. And the power of sin - that is, what highlights it and makes us see it but cannot deliver us from it - is the Law.

But Christ is not under the power of the devil. He is conceived by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary. As He says before going to His crucifixion, "I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me" [Jn 14]. The Lord Jesus is God's Son, very God from very God, begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father, but who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was made Man. He is the Life of the World, and all things that are made have been made through Him. He is not bound by the devil, He is not subject to death and corruption, He commits no sin. In essence He has no need of the Law, because the Law is given to sinners so they will have knowledge of their sin. The Lord Jesus is Lord over the Law, and the one who comes to fulfill it.

So in this way we see that the Lord was not careless about the Law, or disobedient to it (as a Jew circumcised into the Law on the eighth day). He is Lord over it, uses it according to its purpose, and upholds it. How does He uphold it? He tells the one cleansed to show himself to the priest - whose job it was to certify if one was cleansed of leprosy - and to offer the sacrifice prescribed in the Law. In this way the Law witnesses to the priest and the people of God that this one that was unclean, this one that was required to wear disheveled hair and torn clothes and live away from everyone else in exile - this one can come home to his family and friends, for he is made well and whole again.

We know that what the Lord Jesus does for the leper is just a microcosm of what He had come to do for all people of all time. If for the leper the Lord Jesus touched his leprosy, for us He touches our stinging sin with His precious blood, taking away our sins in forgiveness. If for the leper the Lord Jesus crosses the barrier of isolation by reaching out to touch him, for us He crosses the barrier of death by the death of His cross. And as the leprosy was taken away, so has death's hold on us been taken away, and with it the devil's grasp on us. Christ made the leper free from physical illness and exile, but in us He breaks the hold of sin, death, and the devil and implants the kingdom of God within us.

That is the great triumph of Christ, that He accomplishes a cleansing for the whole human race - even the entire creation. His resurrection from the dead has opened the kingdom of heaven to all that will put their trust in Him and obey His voice.

I think many of us naturally want to recoil from people like this leper - and I mean people who seem disadvantaged to us, like people who are visibly impoverished, or visibly impaired in their body or mind, or clearly overcome with circumstances we would not wish on anyone. I think at some level we recoil because we are afraid it's contagious - not necessarily in a literal way, but maybe in such a way that their problems will become ours, and we will be sucked down into their misery. And this is frightening.

But the Lord Jesus teaches us to be unafraid of other's misery. He does this by securing our joy. He does this by becoming our life, our meaning, and our love. He does this by training us to say no to all the false joys in the world, with their false security: money and possessions (give them to the poor), pride (see Publican vs. Pharisee), lust of the eye (pluck it out!), food (fast and pray), and whatever else makes us take no thought of the kingdom (deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow). One by one we are encouraged by our Lord Jesus to dig up what we find in our heart that stands between us and the kingdom planted therein by Christ. And when we recoil from those people who need goodness and love, we can be sure there is something that needs to be dug up, because we are afraid of what cannot hurt us, instead of encouraged by the One who wishes to crown us with glory! But when we train our free will in the way of Christ, the love of Christ flows and gains momentum, and all things become new - in our lives and in the lives of the people we reach out and touch.

Christian love can be bold, because Christ Jesus is the guarantor of that love, and He will back it up 110%.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Our Mother Tongue

"In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed." [Mk. 1:35]

The day before the Lord Jesus had been in Simon Peter's house. He spent the day healing the multitudes and casting out demons. So the next day He rises before dawn - that is, while it is still dark - and went to a deserted place. He got away from everyone in order to pray. This is a distinguishing feature of the Lord Jesus' life. He prays regularly. Raised in a pious home He was taught to pray. And though He has great compassion on the people that come to Him, He still makes the effort to pray.

Do we think about God as One who prays? Well here we have God Incarnate, that is, the Word Made Flesh. God has become a human being just like us, except without sin. So what the evangelist St. Mark is showing us is how a real Man lives. It seems like it's just a glimpse, because soon the disciples track Him down and off they go to continue the Lord's mission of preaching and casting out demons. But we definitely see the One who is God praying, and it is because He is God's Son, and it is because His is a real Man.

And that is the stage upon which we join the Lord Jesus. We are fallen men and women, but Christ died to cancel our fall, rose to initialize our new life, and in the Church has adopted us into the family of God. In Christ we are real Men and real Women - truly Man as He is. So where is prayer in our life? Our life is hidden in Christ, who has ascended to heaven to rule, to fill all things. So that is where our conversation belongs - in Christ, in heaven.

Earthly life demands much from us without us being famous or working miracles as it was with our Lord. Do we talk to God? The Church has given us the words, which hearken back to our Lord's own instructions to say, "Our Father...," and use the same psalms and Scriptures He used in His earthly prayers. But do we put forth the effort? And when life gets in the way, do we push back to make sure the conversation between our souls and heaven itself does not fall away?

We have been given a great gift in Christ, in Baptism, in the Church. The fullness of the kingdom of heaven is entrusted to us for our benefit. But we can lose track of it. We can bury it. We can disregard it. And we can cover it up so that it makes no difference in our life. If we pray, though, as our Lord prayed, this cannot happen. It is the soul that becomes numb to God without us knowing, and it is prayer that keeps the soul warm through closeness to God, if you will.

A lot can be said about prayer, but I only wish to say that a Christian cannot rightly omit it. If prayer is missing from our homes, then our homes lack Christianity in some sense. The Lord Jesus knows it takes effort to maintain a prayer life! But it is how we learn the language of heaven and make that blessed place's language our mother tongue. Amen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Growing Amazing Things

'And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.' [St. Mark 1:23-26]

Not everyone believes in unclean spirits anymore, but they do exist. Unclean spirits are demons, angels that had rebelled against God and now are fallen from both heaven and the Grace of God. Cast out of heaven their abode is in the air above us - the aerial realms of which St. Paul speaks in Ephesians 6, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (By heavenly places, he indicates the aerial realms of the earth, not Heaven itself where God and the good angels and saints dwell.) Or again in the second chapter of St. Paul's same epistle, "And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience."

Demons exist, and they work on mankind to lead us into temptation, to take away our free will, ultimately to destroy us by getting us to destroy ourselves. In some cases they enter a person's body and operate from within. But even when that has not happened the demonic powers have great power over the souls of mankind. This changes when we are baptized. When we receive Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation) we are made righteous and holy, and we are sealed with the Holy Spirit against the demons. From then on the only influence they can have over us is that which we give them through our free will.

Perhaps this man in the synagogue that was possessed was a random victim, or perhaps he opened himself up to the unclean spirit through some sin or wrongdoing, or even some voluntary partnership. We are not told. That is because the lesson is not about the life of this poor man. The lesson is about the Lord Jesus and His power over demons.

Our Lord quiets the unclean spirit and casts it out. Please understand: before the coming of Christ the entire world lay in the clutches of demons like this one and worse. The devil is comparable to the wicked Pharaoh that oppressed the Israelites in Egypt. This happened when Adam and Eve believed the serpent's words in Paradise, and broke God's commandment, and brought death upon themselves, and were cast out in sinful weakness. In so doing they gave themselves up to the power of demons, which is the power of death, because they disobeyed God through the prompting of their leader, the devil. It's just as St. Paul says in Romans 6, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?"

Christ came to free us from this terrible situation. St. Paul says in Hebrews 2, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." The demon in the synagogue quakes in fear, because it recognizes the Strong Man who has come to bind it. What the Lord Jesus does to this one demon in the synagogue demonstrates the victory He has come to achieve and share with us, namely release from bondage to the unclean spirits that secretively subvert our obedience to God, and the firm establishment of the kingdom of heaven in our midst. In freeing this man from possession by the unclean spirit, the Lord Jesus has revealed His own mission to free all of us from the clutches of sin, death, and the devil so we might return to God. This He does ultimately in His voluntary death for us on the cross, so that by His resurrection He might enable us to become temples of the Holy Spirit, slaves of righteousness leading to eternal life, and adopted children that eagerly desire to be like their heavenly Father.

Today's evolved and modern people shake their heads when they hear such things. But this is the truth, whether modern man will believe it or not. When modern man dies, he will see for himself but it will be too late, and then he will wail and wish he had believed otherwise. The kingdom of God exists and is present. Sin is real, as are demons AND angels. Christ is risen from the dead, and He IS coming again to judge everyone by their works. Today is the time we have been given to cast out the likeness of demons from ourselves - anger, despair, lust, pride, and the rest - and to become like our heavenly Father - putting on meekness, forgiveness, forbearance, kindness, and love. None of this is possible unless first we become grafted into Christ. But for those of us so grafted through Baptism, what excuse will we give if we take lightly the free gift given to us, if we adopt the unbelief of the modern world? Modern man is in a grave situation, for he does not believe or take these things seriously. He is worse off than the unclean spirits, for at least they believe and tremble! Modern man scoffs and laughs. But men and women can still change, while demons will not. This gives us hope, as does the mercy of God in Christ. Modern men and women can still be saved. Only unrelenting love can sober such a foolish heart, because modern man must have something to see that endures all things - especially that can endure himself! Unrelenting love can do this, and in this love modern man can come to see God, see himself, and see through tears the way home. So not only are we Christians called to walk in obedience to God for our own sakes, but also for the sake of those that do not yet believe. And if we will plant the seeds of Christ through love, God will amaze us with what He grows from it.