A Letter from Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth

To my beloved family and friends,

I have been remiss in not writing to you or even visiting with any of you for some months. Please forgive me. I have thought of you all often and lifted you up daily in my prayer, hoping that all was well with you.

This past year has been so full and so eventful – difficult, and yes, even wonderful all at the same time. As some of you may know, my husband Zechariah suffered an injury during his priestly rotation at the Jerusalem Temple earlier this year. To those who knew of the injury and offered up their prayers for Zechariah, thank you for your kindness. Our gracious and merciful God has heard your prayers, and Zechariah is now well again. 

I was not at liberty to explain anything about Zechariah’s injury until now. What I am going to relate to you is a sign of the miraculous work of our faithful and loving God. It is a story that at times seems unbelievable, even to Zechariah and me who have lived it, yet I assure you that every word is true.

During Zechariah’s priestly rotation in the Jerusalem Temple, something which happened only twice each year, Zechariah was blessed to be chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and to offer the incense during the week of his priestly service. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord, who identified himself as the angel Gabriel, spoke to Zechariah.

The angel said:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Zechariah and the angel Gabriel

My beloved husband did not believe the angel’s promise at the time it was spoken. Both Zechariah and I are old, as you all know, and I am well past the time when a woman can conceive. Because of Zechariah’s unbelief in the angel’s words, Gabriel struck Zechariah dumb. Gabriel then told my husband that he would be unable to speak until the promised baby was born. Zechariah was instructed to name the promised child John.  

Zechariah was in the sanctuary a long time after the angel’s visit and when he finally emerged, the people praying in the Temple believed that Zechariah had seen a vision. Not only could Zechariah not speak, but I am told that my husband’s appearance was both pale and visibly shaking after seeing the angel. Who wouldn’t be frightened by the heavenly visitor? We are taught that God’s messengers are both powerful and awesome to behold. When the days of Zechariah’s ministry were completed, my husband returned home to me.

I was worried when I first saw Zechariah. Never had I seen my husband so disturbed nor so physically fragile. I did what I could to comfort Zechariah, to assure him that all would be well. Somehow the two of us would find a way to live out what remained of our lives. When Zechariah was finally able to write down what had happened to him in the Lord’s sanctuary and gave me the angel Gabriel’s message, I was overjoyed at the news. 

We have long desired to have a child, praying for the gift of new life every day, as all of you know. We have followed the Law of Moses to the best of our abilities and could not understand why God had not blessed us with a child. Now, thanks be to God, our dreams were to be fulfilled. We know in our hearts that we have been greatly blessed far beyond what any faithful servant of the Lord might expect.

Not many had days passed before I felt the first stirrings of new life inside of me. I had long  dreamed of experiencing this wonder, this miracle, but there were times during the past months before the child’s birth when I was also afraid. Would I be able to give birth to the child given my advanced age? Would my child be healthy? How would I care for the child? Would my husband and I live long enough to raise our son? These and many more questions came to me at night, and yet there wasn’t a moment during the daytime when I didn’t lift up my thoughts to God to thank Him for his abundant blessings. I walked each day as if in a dream. The months of pregnancy became for me a time of joy and blessing. The sky was bluer, the flowers in my garden appeared more numerous and more beautiful than I had ever seen them. I lived each day in wonder and in expectation of the coming birth of our son.

Presentation of Mary in the Temple

I stayed away from you, dear family and friends, because I did not know what to say to all of you. How would I speak of the unbelievable blessings that were being given to my husband and me? I kept my silence for more than five months until that morning when I heard a familiar voice calling to me from the path leading up to our home. It was my beloved cousin, Mary, whom I had not seen in some time.

As most of you are aware, I often visited Jerusalem when my husband’s priestly division of Abijah was in service at the Temple. It was during those times that I came to know my cousin Mary. Though Mary was born and now still lives in Nazareth in Galilee, her parents had dedicated Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem while she was still a child. I was entranced even then by Mary’s simplicity, by her gentleness, her sweet smile and her singular devotion to God. During those years when I accompanied Zechariah to Jerusalem, I grew close to Mary, looked forward to my twice yearly visits and cherished the many moments I spent in Mary’s company.

The Visitation

When I heard Mary’s voice calling to me from the path, the growing child in my womb seemed to leap for joy. I knew in my heart at that moment that Mary not only knew of my pregnancy about which I had told no one, but that my cousin would be the fulfillment of the promise we all heard so long ago. God had finally come to His people to deliver them. Mary, my dear sweet cousin Mary, was carrying in her womb the long awaited Messiah! Praise be to our loving and faithful God who always fulfills His promises!

The months which followed were a time of double and even triple blessings as my child grew steadily inside of me. Mary was such a help to me during those final months. Bending over to put on my sandals was getting ever more difficult. Not only was I old, but the child growing rapidly inside of me made the task more impossible than even age had made it. Before I could ask for help, Mary had recognized the need and had appeared at my feet to tie my sandals. Nothing was too lowly or too tedious for Mary to do. She was at my side constantly, encouraging me, strengthening me, helping me. Mary walked daily in the garden with me, enjoying the beauty of the flowers and plants which grew there. We talked often of our love of our God and the graciousness of His heart and of the promises that had been made to both of us.

During the quiet, warm afternoons that I spent sitting, often dozing in my garden, Mary would sing to me a song she had composed. The song gave me great comfort. I know that you will be blessed by her words as I was:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, 

my spirit rejoices in God my savior, 

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; 

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

And Holy is His Name.

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. 

He has shown might with his arm, 

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. 

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones,

but lifted up the lowly. 

The hungry he has filled with good things; 

the rich he has sent away empty. 

He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, 

according to his promise to our father,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Birth of John

Finally the moment I had been waiting for all of my life arrived. The pains came fierce and strong, but before I knew it, my beautiful son was born. As the angel had instructed Zechariah, we named our son John. When Zechariah gave his consent to the naming of our son over the disagreement of friends and family who were present, instantly my husband’s lips were opened and after so many months, I once more heard Zechariah’s voice. Praise be to our God who has once again fulfilled His promise!

The child, John, born to us is strong and healthy. Anyone who hears John crying for his feeding can attest to that. As the angel Gabriel predicted in the sanctuary of the Temple, I am certain that John will go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah and will bring many back to our God.

A short time after the birth of John, my cousin Mary took her leave of us. The child growing in Mary’s womb was beginning to show. Mary’s husband Joseph was eagerly awaiting her return, and there are preparations that need to be made for the child’s birth.

I was so saddened to see Mary leave, as she has been such a comfort to me. I know that our faithful God will continue to bless and lead Mary as He has done all of her life. Whatever the years which remain for Zechariah and myself, I am certain that God will lead us as well and that we will end our days knowing that our faithful God is always with us.

Shalom dear family and friends,

Elizabeth

Gospel of Luke Chapter 24

Luke Chapter 24 Verses 1 – 12

St Peter

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.

9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

I have read these words so many times through the years. I have tried to imagine the scene, felt the pain and sorrow and surprise of the women as they approached the tomb and found the stone rolled away. I have wondered what these “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning” looked like. Would I have been afraid as well and wondered who they might be? I have read and thought about why the Apostles – the Eleven – and all the others – disciples of Jesus would not have believed the women. 

Today as I read this passage I noticed that “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb” in verse 12. No other Apostle accompanied Peter  in this version of the Resurrection account. In the Gospel of John both Peter and John run to the tomb to ascertain the women’s story. In the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark, the scene is completely different. In Matthew the women meet Jesus on their way back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven remaining Apostles to meet Jesus in Galilee. None of the Apostles return to the tomb in Matthew. In Mark – the longer ending – the disciples refuse to believe Mary Magdalen, who has given them the message that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Again no one goes to the tomb to check out her story, and as we continue to read we learn that some disciples meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

It would be so much easier if all the accounts told the exact same story, but then it would seem as though everyone coordinated their “narrative” as the media does today. Each of the Gospel accounts is addressed to a different audience, so that might be part of the difference in the accounts. Each witness, as they do today, notices things that another person does not notice and relates the event in a different manner based on his/her own personal history and way of speaking. The basic story is the same – Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. That is what we believe.

I also found it interesting that Peter “saw strips of linen lying by themselves”. Remembering the raising of Lazarus, witnesses saw Lazarus come out of the tomb bound in strips of linen. This was the usual way Jews of that day prepared the body of the deceased for burial. So was Jesus’ body wrapped in the same way or was his body just covered front and back by a long sheet of linen – one length of the linen placed on the stone, the body of Jesus lovingly placed on top of it and the remaining part of the linen placed on top of the body? If the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus, the second method was used.

Ripping the linen into strips and winding them around the body would have taken considerable time and effort. Given that the Sabbath was fast approaching after Jesus died, it would seem more likely that the linen was not torn into strips, but Jesus’ body was placed on the long length of linen. Using this method would also make possible the anointing of the body later, as the women were prepared to do. If strips of linen were used, the body of Jesus would have had to be unwrapped before anointing and then wrapped up again. Moving a dead body, even if the person was slight of build, requires a lot of physical strength.

My original question as to why Peter went alone to the tomb has no answer that I could find or imagine. Was everyone else too afraid to accompany him or were they all still asleep as it was early in the morning? Peter may have lost his courage on the night Jesus was arrested, but if this retelling of the story is accurate, Peter has certainly found his courage again. He isn’t afraid to go to the tomb where perhaps Roman soldiers are still stationed.

We are told that of all the Apostles, Peter loved Jesus the most. His desolation at what might have happened to Jesus’ body would have been unbearable. With all the tears Peter shed on the day the Jesus died, he might not have had any left to shed.

When I reflect on this story of the empty tomb, I almost always picture the burial places of my parents. If I were told that my parents’ graves had been opened and that their bodies were missing, it wouldn’t take me long to be on my way, to check it out for myself. The time spent traveling to the location of their graves would be spent in tears and desolation, the question “why?” repeating itself over and over again. How could someone hate these two loving people so much as to disturb their final resting place? No doubt Peter thought the same about the Lord he loved so much.

Four Gospels

Compare and contrast the 4 Gospels – meditations during Adoration. These thoughts occurred over several months as I spent an hour with the Lord each week.

Story of John the Baptist

Mark – introduces characters, basic information, a voice speaks to Jesus (written in Rome to Gentiles we think)

Matthew – shows John more fully like the prophets (Elijah), confrontation with Sadducees and Pharisees, Jesus has a winnowing fan to separate the wheat from the chaff, He identifies with us, tells John that He and John should fulfill all righteousness, the voice of God is heard by others (written to a Jewish Christian audience so it was necessary to align Jesus and what happened to Him with the prophets and prophecies of the Old Testament

Luke – adds historical markers to show us where and when and align with history, John baptized in more than one place, he confronted crowds – not sure if these confrontations were only with Sadducees and Pharisees. John tells people what to do after repenting of sins, confirmed that he was not the expected Messiah; he had trouble with Herod due to Herod’s living with his brother’s wife.

John – little different arrangement, starts with John the Baptist after introductory prayer or song, John the Baptist gives testimony about himself, no angry confrontation with Pharisees and Sadducees, tells us where Jesus came to John’s baptism – Bethany. John had been called by God, like simeon, God had imparted important information to him. He calls Jesus “son of God” though others alluded to it.

Temptation of Jesus

Mark – very short, immediately after His baptism, the Spirit of God led him to the desert which is a place of great danger with little water or food. The desert was a place where Israel rebelled after leaving Egypt. Yet here was a place  where in the solitude Jesus found and understood His mission – obedience to the Father’s plan.

Matthew – We learn how Jesus is tempted, (1)to be a bread king and accepts whatever God wills, (2) Jesus refuses to test God as Israel did demanding signs, (3) Jesus will not worship anyone but God while Israel built an idol in the desert. Matthew shows how Jesus’ experience is like the Jews in the desert, but Jesus does not sin.

Luke –  Both Luke and Matthew flesh out the devil who may have guessed who Jesus truly is. The order of the temptaions is different. Third temptation is in Jerusalem where Jesus’ final obedience to His Father is revealed. Luke speak to Gentiles – just as everyone is tempted by drive to power, worldly honor or material good, Jesus was tempted by chose obedience to God.

John – does not reflect on this story.

Beginning of Jesus ministry

Mark – this is one sentence but full of words that speak of amazing things. Gospel means “good news”. Jesus says: “This is the time of fulfillment ( what the Jews were promised, what they were waiting for)  The kingdom of God is at hand (it is here where you can touch and see it.) Repent and believe the Good News. (Prepare yourself by changing inside so you can listen and see). The scene makes me think that Jesus was saying as clear as could be – Yahweh is here and I am He. The Jews would have understood that.

Matthew – After John’s arrest, Jesus left Judea and went to Galilee. He left Nazareth where He had been living and working and went to Capernaum. Did Mary go with Him? One would think so, for He would not leave her alone to fend for herself. Capernaum is part of the prophesy of Isaiah, that “a great light” would come from that land. There Jesus began to preach that the kingdom of heaven was here. God has come as He had promised.

Luke – Jesus returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” – don’t really understand that, but news of Him spread, so He must have been preaching and healing. His works announced that God had come, as He had promised.

John – John does not reflect on these first days except to speak of the call of the Apostles.

Call of the first disciples

Matthew and Mark are almost word for word the same. The call of Jesus “entails abandonment of the family and former way of life and emphasizes Jesus mysterious power.” (footnote) In Mark, Zebedee the father of John and James is left with hired men to help him. There is no indication in Matthew that someone is left behind with the father.

Luke – the story is arranged differently. We first see Jesus curing people and being rejected by those in the synagogue in Nazareth and had left Capernaum to ray in a deserted place. The story is arranged so that one who assume that the disciples had a previous encounter with Jesus for we read that He healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Then he preached by the side of the sea where Simon and his friends were working, cleaning their nets. Andrew is not mentioned. Jesus gets into Simon’s boat uninvited and suggests that they row out a bit and lower their nets. They had been unsuccessful with fishing the night before (the ordinary time to fish) but they comply with Jesus. After catching so many fish that help was needed to haul them all ashore, Simon recognizes Jesus power and along with James and John decides to follow Jesus. Jesus tells Simon “do not be afraid”, a customary saying when one is approached by the supernatural.

John – The first disciples have Jesus pointed out to them by John the Baptist who has baptized Jesus and then calls Him the “lamb of God”, a phrase ripe with meaning. Having been disciples of the Baptist, (Andrew and John)  they understand his words and begin to follow Jesus as they believe Jesus is the prophesied Messiah. So they follow to find out if the Baptist is correct. After spending the day with Him, Andrew gets his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus telling him that they have found the Messiah.

The author of this Gospel was a witness to these events, so I wonder if this re-telling is closer to the actual events. Did Andrew bring Simon first – perhaps he was close by? There are some suggestions that the Sabbath was quickly approaching as we are told it was 4 in the afternoon. Sabbath would have begun at sundown.

Cleansing of a Leper – June 1, 2012

This story only occurs in Matthew Chapter 8 vs. 1 -4 and Luke Chapter 6, vs 12-16.  The words of both of these episodes are exactly the same. The leper says to Jesus: “Lord, if you wish, you could make me clean”. Who  could cure leprosy? Only God could, so it appears that the leper has faith and great courage in approaching Jesus, for lepers were required to stay away from the healthy. The leper fell prostrate – only God deserves such honor – it speaks of total vulnerability. Leprosy was thought to be a sign of sin. Who can forgive sin? Only God can.

Jesus replies: “I do will it” and then He touched the leper. According to the Law, touching a leper was one of those actions which made a person unclean. Most people would not touch a leper, fearing they would contract the disease. Isn’t that what Jesus does with every man’s sin? He touches us and cleanses us of our sin. In Jesus words “I do will it” – those hearken back to the words of creation.

Then to touch another or be touched by another – what a gift that is, especially for the leper. How long had it been since the leper had been lovingly touched by another?

At least three gifts were given by this act of Jesus – a touch of love which is acceptance of the man, forgiveness of sin, and healing of a horrible disease which returned the leper to society and to his loved ones.

Touch encompasses acceptance and communion with others. God says in Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone”. Yet the leper or anyone with a skin disease became an outcast, and therefore, alone. In so many of these stories of healings, Jesus returns the sick to society, and more importantly, to worship. Even now He does that, for what is a sinner but one who is sick and separated from God? 

Healing of the paralytic

Matthew Chapter 9, verses 1-8

In this story Jesus is back in Capernaum where He is living, although the story does not tell us the exact location. Knowing Jesus had returned people brought to Him a man on a stretcher. Jesus acknowledges the faith of the people and addresses the paralytic, telling him his sins are forgiven. Scribes standing nearby know that only God can forgive sins for it is God who is offended by our actions. Jesus questions the scribes, whom He knew were questioning His actions, and asks which is easier to say – your sins are forgiven or rise and walk. Each of these statements requires some kind of action which only God can do. To prove that He has the power to forgive sins, Jesus heals the man to the amazement of all.

There doesn’t seem to be any question that the man was truly paralyzed for all must have known him.

Mark Chapter 2 verses 1 – 12

Same basic story as in Matthew except Jesus is in His(?) house and the men who are carrying the paralytic cannot bring him to Jesus so they take him up on the roof and open the roof above Jesus’ head. There are 4 men – wonder if they are brothers or close friends of the man due to the extent they were willing to go to bring him to Jesus. (storming heaven with our prayers)

Luke  Chapter 5 verses 17 -26

Same basic story as Mark and Matthew although Pharisees are there as well as the scribes. The setting has changed somewhat. There are tiles on the roof, reflecting a Gentile home, rather than a dirt and straw roof. After the man was healed, he glorified God and went home, which we were not told in the other versions. The crowd states that “we have seen incredible things today” as if this were some kind of performance, although it may not have been meant that way. When Jesus is surprised by the faith of the four men who brought the paralytic, is He forgiving the four who brought the man or the man himself. In the other versions, he seems to be forgiving the paralytic.

June 15, 2012 The call of Levi (Matthew)

In Matthew’s Gospel we are given a name of this man – Matthew, one of the 12 apostles. The story is almost exactly the same in Mark and Luke except the tax collector is called Levi. Mark’s gospel adds “son of Alphaeus”. Alphaeus – who is he? Was another apostle also a son of this man – James, the first bishop of Jerusalem who wrote the Letter of James and was one of the early martyrs. There is some question about James the less, son of Alphaeus and James the apostle. The Gospels never mention that Matthew and James were brothers.

Only in Matthew’s Gospel does Jesus say to the Pharisees and scribes who question his eating with tax collectors and sinners “learn the meaning of the words “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. 

I question how it was that the Pharisees and scribes knew what Jesus was doing. Did they follow Him about or have spies watching him? Why? The only answer I can come up with is that the miracles of Jesus and the prophesies let them to wonder whether Jesus was “the one who is to come.” So they would watch and judge His actions to determine if they fit with what the Scriptures claimed.

In addition, they were zealous for their faith and tried to follow all of the laws of Moses. They may have considered themselves less sinful than the common man. They seemed to be the elite of their community. Did they work at all or spend all their time studying the Scriptures?

When Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”, was he being sarcastic, referring to their belief about themselves?

We see many common people are friends of Matthew and came to the banquet he hosted. Perhaps he welcomed any who accepted him.

Job of the tax collector – one needed some education and an ability to speak with Romans. They kept records, tallied up sums and would have been separated from most Jews who considered them traitors and thieves.

The question of fasting —

Matthew 9:14-17

Remember that Matthew is addressing Jewish Christians. People watched Jesus and His disciples much as people today watch others who interest them – I do this too – in Adoration Chapel I watch how people reverence the Lord and try to imitate behaviors that I find beautiful. We watch how people live, what they wear and eat, whether they are kind and charitable, what friends they have and if these people meet with our approval, we imitate them. This is no different than people have always done.

So it must have been with Jesus. People were curious about Him. They expected the Messiah and wondered if He fit the image they had of who the Messiah would be.

Jesus compares Himself to a bridegroom. God often spoke of Israel as His spouse. At a wedding banquet people eat, talk, dance and celebrate the beginning of a new life which two people are making. The disciples of John would have noticed the connection Jesus was alluding to – John may have been imprisoned or dead at the time, so it would have been natural for John’s disciples to seek out Jesus – the Baptist had pointed to Him. Jesus tells them He will be forcibly taken away and then His disciples would mourn. Given the way John the Baptist was taken, his previous disciples could visualize this as well. No doubt they mourned and fasted for him, praying that God would restore the Baptist to them. Jesus calls His disciples wedding guests who would be celebrating. He questions why they should mourn when He is near.

There is a comparison of old and new cloth and old and new wineskins. How is this connected to the bridegroom? Perhaps as the footnote describes Jesus is bringing in a new tradition. Patching it with parts of the old would not work – the old would be damaged in some way. Perhaps He is saying the old is still good, but the Bridegroom is a new way of being.

Mark 3:18-22

In this version written to the Gentile Christians of Rome, it is the generic “people” who objected that Jesus and His disciples did not fast. Others – disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees – did. Perhaps these groups were seen by the “people” as being more outwardly religious and therefore closer to God – they made a point of fasting. So why doesn’t Jesus – who presents Himself as close to God – fast?

When the bridegroom is taken away – again not by choice “on that day”, the disciples of Jesus will fast, for then they shall mourn. Again Mark continues with the old/new cloth and wineskins.

Luke 6:33-39

Luke also addresses the Gentiles but gives a little fuller description of the event. We read that the disciples of John and the Pharisees “fast and offer prayers”, but Jesus and His disciples eat and drink! Jesus once again speaks of a bridegroom and guests. Then we are told that Jesus tells them a parable of cloth and wineskins. In the other two versions the statements are just given to us but here Luke tells us they are parables – a message perhaps that Jesus is expressing something important. 

The cloth story speaks of tearing a new cloak (this is different – before it was just new cloth patched to old) which is the way of Jesus, and patching the old cloak which was the old covenant. New and old won’t match – the old will be torn by the new. The wineskin story just repeats the idea. Then an addition to the previous two Gospels – Jesus says that no one who is drinking old wine wants the new. The footnote says this may be sarcasm about the Jews.

Further notes: Jesus often speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom.

Calming The storm at sea – Matthew 8: 23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25 no corresponding story in the Gospel of John

Note previously written in Matthew about this episode — They looked to Jesus to save them when they were powerless to save themselves.

Matthew –This Gospel was written for Jewish Christians primarily. Many Jewish Christians in Palestine would have been familiar with the Sea of Galilee, so the story about the storm might have made sense to them. According to Fr. Robert Barron storms on this large lake were not predictable, at least in the time of Jesus, and seemed to come up suddenly without warning. The story tells us that the disciples followed Jesus onto the boat. If he was their teacher, they would have followed His lead, walking after Him. The author leaves out any information as to where they were going or the time of day or even how long they had been rowing. The disciples must have believed that Jesus could do something to help for they call out “Lord, save us, for we are perishing.” Many who heard the story would have marveled that Jesus could sleep through a storm in an open boat with the waves breaking over the boat. The audience would have been able to envision the story, especially if they were familiar with the sea of Galilee. Though the Apostles believed that Jesus could help, He chides them for their unbelief. When He does calm the sea, they were amazed for only God controls the natural world.

Mark – expands the story, perhaps more for Gentile hearers. He sets the stage by telling the time of day and that there was more than one boat. Perhaps not all twelve apostles could have fit into one boat. Mark tells us that waves were breaking over the boat and it was filling up with water. We also learn that the squall was violent and where Jesus was seated.  In this version Jesus is addressed as “teacher”  instead of “Lord” and is asked “don’t you care that we are perishing”. One could imagine the scene and wonder why He wasn’t helping bail out the water. The apostles don’t ask Him directly to save them. Jesus asks why they are terrified. “Do you not yet have faith?” So we can conclude that the apostles have seen much that Jesus has done. After Jesus calms the waves, the apostles are filled with awe. Only God’s actions fill us with awe.

Luke— In Luke’s story addressed to Gentiles, the sea of Galilee is termed a lake. One would expect that the hearers did not have experience of the sea of Galilee. The selection opens just like a story — “one day he got into a boat”  and said to the disciples “Let us cross to the other side”. We see Jesus directing the action. They set sail so we see a sailboat perhaps with oars although that is not told to us. A squall comes up after Jesus has fallen asleep and the little boat takes on water – not a good sign in a boat. Jesus is called “Master” in this story. He is told that all in the boat are perishing. He is not asked to do anything, but after He awoke “He rebuked the waves and wind”, acting in the person of God and the Word of God which causes events by His very words. Afterwards He asks them “where is your faith” They are filled with awe once again and spoke to one another “Who then is this (man), who commands the winds and waves and they obey Him”. So no matter what they have seen or heard, they still do not see Him as God but as a man with extraordinary knowledge, ability to communicate and close to God who gives Him the power to do what He does.

The healing of the Gadarene demonic

Matthew 8:28-34

This story appears in all synoptic Gospels, but Matthew’s is the shortest. In his version, there are two men (unlike Luke and Mark) who are possessed by demons. The  men live away from the nearby community. Jesus is recognized by the demons who plead that they will not be tormented by Him “before the appointed time”. I suppose the message here is that the demons recognize the Son of God and His power – this Gospel is directed originally to Jewish Christians who would have known that the Gadarenes were Gentiles. What is amazing to me is that the demons beg not to be tormented when that is what they are doing to the people they possess. I wonder if there is a message there for me.

The demons ask to be sent to a herd of swine (Jews would not associate with those who raised them, considering swine to be unclean) The demons immediately rush into the sea once they are allowed into the herd, destroying the entire herd. The people in the nearby town come out to meet Jesus and are so afraid of Him that they ask Him to leave.  They apparently recognize Jesus’ power. They may also not want anyone around who messes with their way of life, their ability to make money.

The demonics in all three stories are so debased by their lifestyles that they live among the dead in what seems to be a cemetery. I think here of drug addicts and alcoholics and anyone possessed by some kind of addiction which drives them away from human contact.

In Mark and Luke, the longer versions, we read that the demonic individual has been so violent that he had been chained to keep him from hurting others, but he was able to break the chains. This makes me think of people addicted to pcp’s. In Mark we see the poor man hurting himself with stones. In Luke he has no clothes – he could not fall any further and had become like the wild animals.

In Mark and Luke it is revealed that more than one demon possesses the man. They call themselves Legion. In both Mark and Luke the healed man wants to accompany Jesus, but is sent home to speak of his healing. Wouldn’t we all like to stay close to the One who has healed us, but we are asked instead to speak God’s Words to others.

Curious that the demons wanted to inhabit the pigs which were considered unclean – perhaps it points to their (the demons) uncleanness.

This is one of the most curious of the stories I have read so far.

July 20, 2012

Luke Chapter 1 (no comparisons today)

Luke is a second or perhaps third generation Christian writing around 80 -90 AD. He is a Syrian from Antioch. His purpose, as stated in the prologue, is to write down, in an orderly sequence, as accurately as possible, everything he has been taught, read and learned about Jesus. His sources were the Gospel of Mark, a written collection of sayings of Jesus (Q) and other un-named traditions used by Luke alone. This Gospel is written primarily for Gentiles.

When I think about these stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood, I can’t help but believe that he or someone close had personal access to Mary. For who else would have known all of this? Perhaps these stories were written down or came from John the Apostle, with whom Mary lived after Jesus death. These stories have too much detail to have been imagined.

Luke sets the time and place and relates this to both Palestinian and Roman history. Then he begins to weave the stories of Jesus with Old Testament prophesies.

We meet Zechariah and Elizabeth first. They were two faithful Jews who have an important part to play. Through God’s design they give birth to the one who will announce and prepare the way for the Messiah. An Angel (Gabriel) appears to Zechariah while Zechariah is ministering in the Temple in Jerusalem. He becomes troubled and afraid, which is understandable. The angel tells Zechariah that his prayers will be answered and more spectacularly than could be imagined. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are both elderly. They have prayed throughout their marriage for a child, but none came.

It is curious that Zechariah does not believe the angel. But even now ministers of our faith caution us to test what may appear to be a revelation from God. Had an angel appeared to me I would question whether my eyes were deceiving me or if due to my age I were hallucinating. Nevertheless, Zechariah questions.

Yet the angel knew Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers – surely that would count for something. What the angel reveals about the son to come is spectacular – like Samson and perhaps other ancient heroes _ he will drink no wine, he will be greatly favored by God, he will receive the Holy Spirit in the womb, and he will turn many hearts back to God.( In every age many turn away from God. Surely Zechariah had seen this in his time.) The angel also says that his son will fulfill Old Testament prophesies.

But Zechariah questions the angel. But his questions don’t revolve around his son’s ability to do great things for the Lord, but the ability of an old man and an old woman to conceive a child – the mechanics of it that seem to puzzle him. The angel strikes Zechariah mute until the child is born and named John.

Elizabeth conceives after Zechariah returns home mute. Then curiously, Elizabeth secludes herself for 5 months after conceiving. Why?

Luke Chapter 1 (continued) The Angel Gabriel visits Mary

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary – there is no indication where or what time of day. He addresses her as someone greatly honored. As with Zechariah, the angel tells Mary that there is no reason to fear. And just as with Zechariah, the angel tells Mary what her child will be like – what honors will be bestowed on Him. And the angel names the child just as he did with Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child.

As the angel gave Zechariah a sign (making him mute for his disbelief), the angel gives Mary a sign, although she did not ask for one. She did question how an unmarried woman could become pregnant. The angel tells Mary that the conception of Jesus will be miraculous. The sign he gives is that her cousin Elizabeth, an older woman who has been barren, is with child, also by God’s intervention.

Mary had to discern if the angel was from God, but since we believe that she was born without sin, the devil would not approach her (at least that is what I think).

Then Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. I assume that Mary had been around pregnant women before and knew that difficulties even a young woman would face during a pregnancy. Seeing her cousin pregnant would confirm the angel’s message.

Love and concern for others is a natural condition of the human heart. Mary displays this by making the difficult and dangerous journey to visit her cousin.

The Holy Spirit is given to John at this time (Mary’s visit) and also given to Elizabeth. Perhaps Elizabeth had been told what the angel said to Zechariah about the child she carried but until Mary’s arrival she did not know just whom John would announce.

Our Blessed Mother and Elizabeth

Monday morning while praying the Joyful Mysteries, I had a beautiful picture of our Blessed Mother Mary. When we think about Mary going to visit Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, I often think about how difficult the journey must have been. I have read that it would take someone 18 days to travel between Nazareth and Ein Karem. We don’t know if Mary traveled alone, on foot or with a group though I suspect a group of people just because of the danger involved. But I started thinking about what Mary would do for Elizabeth, an older woman who was very pregnant. I thought about the time I was pregnant and how difficult it was to bend over. And in my mind I saw our Blessed Mother washing Elizabeth’s feet, because it would have been a difficult thing for Elizabeth to do. There was Mary kneeling before her cousin, giving what comfort she could give. The future Queen of Heaven caring with great tenderness for the mother of John the Baptist. 

Canticle of Zechariah

zechariah
Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Israel;
He has come to His people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
Born of the house of His servant David.

Through His holy prophets He promised of old
That He would save us from our enemies,
From the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers
And to remember His holy Covenant.

This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
To set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship Him without fear,
Holy and righteous in His sight
All the days of our life.

You, My child shall be called
The prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our Lord
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Glory to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning.
is now, and will be forever.

Amen.

It occurred to me this morning that this canticle is a short history of salvation. I have written about this canticle in other places on this blog, but I don’t think I have recognized this important fact. The canticle starts by saying that God has remembered his promise of a savior from Genesis and then takes us through the promise made to Abraham and the patriarchs all the way to John the Baptist. Then the final stanza is a song of joy at what God has accomplished.

March 28, 2017 I have wondered why there seemed to be a repeat about God’s promises. I realized this morning that the promises are not repeated. The first mention of the promises is reflected from the prophets, but then the promise to Abraham is recited. It seems just a small thing, but it is not. Our Father is a “Father who keeps His promises.”

Zechariah’s Canticle Part 2

 

john-the-baptist…”You, My child shall be called
The prophet of the Most High,
For you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins.”

Thinking about this, this morning – John the Baptist in the wilderness. Somehow people heard about John- probably travelers saw and heard him, then spoke of him in the marketplaces, with their friends. “A strange and wild man,” they might have said,” living on locusts and wild honey, dressed in animal skins with a rope around his waist.” Why would someone want to go see him? Curiosity, maybe, but with lives as difficult as they were, why take the time to see? Entertainment? How many had time for this? The elites, of course, those who knew the Law and the Prophets – they were waiting, after all, for the Messiah – this was the predicted time. But ordinary people who by the sweat of their brows put food upon their family’s table?

Those ordinary folks who did go out to see John the Baptist – perhaps there was a longing in their hearts, a sense of their own unworthiness, a need to feel closer to God, and yes, a sense of curiosity and wonder. Jews knew their history; they were all waiting for God to bring them freedom.

And what did they find when they made the journey to the wilderness – a wild man, just as their friends had said. A man with a booming voice and a frightening message. “Repent!” No doubt some walked away, thinking that they had been entertained, or maybe some were disappointed. But to those who stayed, who heard John’s message, who submitted to his baptism – what did they experience? Was there an inner sense of freedom, a rekindling of their love for the Lord, a sense of wonder, of God’s closeness to them? And were they prepared when Jesus came on the scene? Were these people more open to the message of Jesus because of John’s work?

I would say “yes”, though of course, I have no proof. God comes to us in mysterious ways -sometimes we feel His presence in a word, an action by ourselves or others, by the way the morning light sculpts the branches of the trees or sparkles on the wet leaves. Each time we open our hearts to these moments, I think we become more open to the next “visit”.

Lovely morning this morning, though a bit cold. I have noticed the sunsets lately – they seem to be prettier than I remember – soft, pretty colors.

Zechariah and Elizabeth

Luke 1:5:25

Poppies and pots watercolor F. McDonald

Zechariah was a priest (Levite), Elizabeth, his wife a descendant of Aaron, also a Levite

The Bible says that both were righteous, living blamelessly but they had no children, which at that time was said to be a curse or condemnation from God.

“…once when he (Zechariah) was serving as priest (in the Temple), he was chosen by lot to offer incense in the sanctuary…the whole assembly of the people were praying outside…”Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” (the angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah)…” After serving his time in the Temple, Elizabeth conceived a child, even though both she and Zechariah were old. “for five months Elizabeth remained in seclusion.”

Two elderly people doing their best to serve their Lord, yet for all the joy and goodness of their lives together, they had no children. They persisted in honoring God. When Elizabeth conceives, did she wonder how and why? Did Zechariah tell Elizabeth about the angel’s message? Did Elizabeth believe that her days were now filled with wonder?

So many questions which the Bible does not answer.

Thoughts on the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

the visitationWhen thinking on the Second Joyous Mystery, I always think of the kindness of Mary to visit with her cousin Elizabeth and help her in these last months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. How difficult it must have been for this older woman to carry a child in her womb, to go about her day, doing all the various chores that would have been hers.

Remembering my time as a  pregnant young woman –  as the months advanced even bending over to pick up dirty clothing from the floor or tie my shoes was difficult. How much more difficult it must have been for Elizabeth. We don’t know how old Elizabeth was when she became pregnant, but older than was normal for a woman of the time. It must have meant that she had passed menopause, so probably 50 years old or older.

This morning, when reading the Canticle of Zechariah and considering the joyous words, I thought about the excitement that Mary brought with her. Elizabeth knew that Mary was carrying the Messiah, for the Holy Spirit told her so. Zechariah must have soon recognized this fact or have been told as well, perhaps by Elizabeth. What joy there must have been in that home for the months that Mary was there – each day recognizing that the soon to be born Messiah lived under one’s roof. Could anyone have fallen asleep at night? Or would one fall asleep praising God for the fulfillment of a promise made so long ago?

In our own lives now, I can receive the Son of God into my body – differently than Mary – but still He comes to live with me. Why don’t I feel the joy that Zechariah and Elizabeth felt? Am I so used to receiving Communion that it no longer means anything to me? How do I focus on this mystery of the Lord with me, so that I will cherish what I receive?

——————————————————–

December 22, 2013

What about Mary’s joy? She wanted to share it with someone. Were her parents deceased by now? Is that why she went to see Elizabeth as her nearest female relative? Was it only another woman who could understand her joy? Or was Mary’s journey the prompting of the Holy Spirit, for Mary’s contact with Elizabeth and her unborn son would prepare John for his coming mission? We are told that at the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary, the unborn John was cleansed of original sin. So many things to ponder. So many mysteries that will remain unanswered.

Canticle of Zechariah – Part 3

“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us”

dawnThis morning while reading the Morning Prayer in the Magnificat, this line “jumped out” at me. What a beautiful image it brought to mind. As the dawn comes, so quietly, so softly, God’s Son will come to us – “to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” The birds know when the dawn is coming, for sometimes I hear the softest peep as they awake. Then all is quiet again, as they wait with expectation for the start of a new day.

How glorious and loving is our God! That He would come to live among us, to share His life with us – there is no way that my mind can understand this or begin to thank Him for His generosity and His love. And as the dawn is so beautiful and touches our hearts so gently, so I think God must be also. Beautiful to behold – so beautiful that we cannot see Him and live. Our eyes and hearts and minds could not grasp that much beauty – at least not yet.

A poem I wrote some years ago:

Darkness before dawn, the world quiet and still

All nature awaits the sign of His will.

The morning approaches with the touch of His Hand

As the cap of the night is raised from the land.

With delicate brush strokes He addresses the sky

Bringing great feasts of glory to awaken our eyes.

First, billowing clouds – soft grey-blue and white

Then a procession of hues which arouses the light.

His palette sighs heavenward with warm tints and shades,

A bouquet of colors which reflect what He’s made.

Our thanksgiving to God for his painting above,

Now intertwined with our lives is a sky full of love.

More thoughts on Zechariah

Imagine that you are a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem. You are called to light the incense in God’s Holy Place – a task that seldom comes to you. An angel appears to you while you are in this most quiet and Holy Place, and you are frightened. The angel announces that your wife will conceive a child, even though she has long since passed the time when women conceive. You question the angel’s message, so the angel strikes you dumb for you failed to believe God’s messenger. After your time of service is completed, you return home to your wife Elizabeth. She does become pregnant, just as the angel said. You are amazed and puzzled that after all these years, there would be a child – surely you and your wife are too old.  Could you have really seen an angel? Could what you remember of an angel’s message be true?

Often during sleepless nights, you ask God’s forgiveness for your unbelief and thank Him for His wonderful gift of a child. You spend most days and sometimes late into the night at the local synagogue studying the scrolls of the Torah. The angel said that your son would be a forerunner for the Messiah. Your people have waited for the Messiah for centuries. You live as in a dream – God is preparing to visit His people. Who are you that the Most High God has chosen your son to be born to announce to the world that His Messiah has come?

Then far into your wife’s unexpected pregnancy, a visitor comes. You are told that the visitor is your wife’s young cousin Mary from Nazareth, who has come to help your wife in these last difficult months of her pregnancy. Tearing yourself away from your studies, you return home. You want to thank Mary for her kindness in coming to help Elizabeth. As you come into Mary’s presence, what do you sense? There is a look about Mary. There always has been. She is a kind and generous young woman. But she has always had about her a seriousness, a sense of purpose, a dignity beyond her years. But now, something about Mary is different. Do you feel within your soul that you are in the presence of God? Do you have the same intuition as your wife had when she heard Mary’s voice, when your soon to be born son leaped for joy in her womb? You are a man of deep thoughts and an intense love of God. Would you know that you are in His Presence? Does Mary or Elizabeth tell you the news – Mary carries within her womb the Messiah, the Son of God? What are your thoughts at her news? Do you disbelieve her as you did the angel who announced Elizabeth’s pregnancy? Or have you learned enough, thought enough, prayed enough to know that God is doing wondrous things, and He has given you a small part to play in the drama. Do you fall on your knees as you behold Mary? Do you reach out to touch the Son of God growing within her? Can you still breathe?

In Zechariah’s canticle –  the first two lines – we find these words:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.

Was this Luke’s reflection on what he knew had happened or were they Zechariah’s words, for he knew from Mary that the Messiah was developing as an infant in her womb? Does it matter if it is Luke’s reflection or Zechariah?

August 5, 2013

Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.

Today while reading the Morning Prayer, it occurred to me that Zechariah knew what the promise was – not necessarily a return of a Davidic kingdom, but a place and a time where the chosen people could worship God freely. Yes, they would be free from the hands of enemies, but being able to worship God freely would allow them to be holy and righteous in the sight of God. Perhaps he saw that as the promise of the Covenant.