Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 37

Posted: May 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 37

76.  The presence of the passion of avarice reveals itself when a person enjoys receiving but resents having to give. Such a person is not fit to fulfill the office of treasurer or bursar.

I was struck by the turn this text took. St. Maximos describes the sign of one rule by the passion of avarice, but having noted it turns to a practical matter. Once you recognize such a person, don’t put that person in charge of the money. But it’s not merely practical. St. Maximos is also telling us to protect those in the grip of a passion out of love for them. Don’t place them in a position which you know will contribute to their self-destruction. That’s a perspective we could apply in many areas of life.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 9

Posted: January 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 9

17.  There are three things which produce love of material wealth: self-indulgence, self-esteem and lack of faith. Lack of faith is more dangerous than the other two.

What do you think of St. Maximos’ prescription? We certainly live in a culture consumed with love of material wealth. Other than books, ‘stuff’ doesn’t hold much appeal to me and I’ve never seen the allure of money for money’s sake. Nevertheless, I remain a product of our culture. I am wealthy compared to most of the people alive today (as are most of us in the US) and I’m happy that’s the case. I enjoy my privileges of birth and am not inclined to sacrifice them. I’m happy that my children are largely safe from starvation, disease, and war and can have much that they desire. As a culture (and I’m speaking only to the Christians within our culture), do we largely lack faith? I’m struck by the fact that so many of us have defined material wealth as a sign of God’s blessing on us. Sometimes it seems our faith is actually in our wealth.


The Jesus Creed 7 – John the Baptist: The Story of New Beginnings

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 7 – John the Baptist: The Story of New Beginnings

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The ones for this chapter are: Luke 3:1-20; John 1:6-9, 15, 19-34.

In the middle section of the book, McKnight explores the implications of the Jesus Creed through the stories of different people in the gospels. He starts with John the Baptist. There are several themes in play. The Jordan River marked the time the children of Israel crossed over into the promised land for a new beginning. Likewise, John was calling for a new beginning. We also need to compare priests and prophets. John’s father was a priest. John was a prophet.

A priest speaks for humans to God in the privacy of the temple. A prophet speaks for God to humans in the publicity of the town square. Priests wiped sins from the people; prophets wiped sins in their faces. Most importantly, priests summoned people to tell the truth so they could make restitution, but prophets summoned people to tell the truth so they could start all over again.

And prophets didn’t always use words. There are many examples of prophets being told to act out the drama they were prophesying. So it is with John. Not just with words, but location. He stages his drama on the far side of the Jordan River, the side from which they entered Israel.

John is saying that if Israel wants to enjoy the blessings of God, they need to go back to the Jordan and begin again. … This is the only way to make sense of John is his world: He wants his audience to see that life can begin all over again. At the Jordan, John gives us the opportunity to start over. How? John has a word for it.

Repent! It’s the first word out of his mouth. Repentance “with an edge“. Repentance means we “must confess our sins“, in other words, “we must tell God the truth.” And that’s hard. We have layers.

Our public persona.

Our family image.

And our inner self.

And telling the truth to God means we expose all of them. “The Jesus Creed begins with loving God. Love, for it to work at all, requires truthtelling.” Don’t we see some of that in the Psalms? If we are not first honest, good and bad, we can hardly claim to love at all.

Truthtelling awakens forgiveness. By telling the truth, we are able to receive forgiveness from our Abba. If we do not learn to tell the truth, we are closed off from that forgiveness. We hide. God thrills at each reconciliation. That is clear. Truthtelling gets real, though.

Spirituality. Many of those listening had their spirituality anchored in their Jewish heritage. So does John and he’s probably proud of his heritage. Nevertheless, our spirituality must be anchored in our Abba.

Our possessions. Oh, that’s a tough one for us today. But honestly it’s always been tough. “The Bible speaks often of money because it is with money that we exercise the freedoms of choice.” That’s a heady thought. John says, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none.” How important are our possessions to us? We need to tell the truth.

Our power. To one extent or another, we all have it. Many of those John faced abused it. “If we love God and love others, we will use our power for the good of others. We need to tell the truth about power: how do we use it?”  This is why the discipline of confession strikes me as so very important today. We are all lousy at telling the truth about ourselves. It’s often not pretty. But unless we do it, we will never grow in faith.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 6

Posted: April 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love 6

23.  He who loves God will certainly love his neighbor as well. Such a person cannot hoard money, but distributes it in a way befitting God, being generous to everyone in need.

24.  He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.

Our love and our lack of love is very often demonstrated by what we choose to do with our money. Did not Jesus strongly warn us of precisely that reality? And not only should we give, but when providing for the bodily needs of another human being, we ought not discriminate between those we believe deserve our help and those who do not. I’m reminded by these texts that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike. He gives good gifts to us all. He is a good God who loves mankind.

Once again, I’m not particularly good at this. I don’t think it’s greed, since I’ve had both nothing and plenty over the years and I still have no particular desire for money. It’s more comfortable to have enough than not to have enough. That’s true. But I don’t care that much about money itself. I think it’s often fear that drives me away from love. I’m afraid I won’t have enough. I’m afraid the money will be “wasted”. I’m not sure; perhaps it’s fear of many things.

Once again, we Christians are not particularly known in this country for our outrageous generosity. Many people in our country know we are supposed to love and we are supposed to be generous. Too many of the charges against us are true.

Lord have mercy.


The Didache 32 – Appoint Bishops and Deacons

Posted: July 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers.

This bit reflects the very early nature of the tradition in the Didache. The bishop was the center around which the church formed and the deacons served those in it. Later in the first century and well-established by the second century when there came to be too many believers in a city for the bishop of that city to personally care for, the bishop anointed presbyters (priests) to act in his stead in many circumstances. (There were still a few things only the bishop of a place could do.)

Christianity was always traditionally centered around physical place. You had the bishop of this city or angel of that city (revelation) or church of this other city. There was no concept of multiple separate churches in a given place even, as we see clearly in Romans, the church was too large and scattered to meet in a single location. We see Paul paying particular attention to the need to draw the Roman church together as one in that letter.

By the second century, we see a developed picture of the fullness or wholeness of the church pictured by the bishop of a place surrounded by his presbyters and deacons and people. It’s only in recent centuries that we’ve devolved into the sort of christian pluralism that permits many different “churches” competing with each other as different franchises within a particular place.

And that’s really sad.


The Didache 30 – Supporting Prophets

Posted: July 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

But every true prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.

Giving the first fruits resonates with the Jewish background of Christianity.  Though Paul did not use the language of first fruits, the sentiment here clearly echoes his teaching. We know that Paul and Barnabus mostly did not accept money or other support and worked as tentmakers. They did not want there to be any confusion or question about their motives. However Paul taught in no uncertain terms that a prophet is worthy of being supported by his community.

While Paul did not accept such support very often, we know that others certainly did. Among the apostles, Peter and John were supported by different churches. And many of the early bishops were as well.

I’ve noticed there has arisen today an idea in some corners that a “proper” minister should be bi-vocational rather than being paid. While there is certainly nothing wrong with it, and it can even be a very honorable thing to do, there’s nothing in either the NT or in early christian writings to support the idea that such an approach is either required or is somehow “better”.  Or so it seems to me.


The Didache 28 – Apostles, Teachers, and Prophets

Posted: July 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 28 – Apostles, Teachers, and Prophets

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

The opening echoes again the earlier warning about false teachers. However, this section then moves into a discussion of apostles, we were clearly still around when the Teaching was formed. Some of what is said reminds me of Jesus’ instructions to the 70 when he sent them out. Certainly they were to travel from place to place and take nothing with them.

And there are clear warnings about those seeking to profit from the name of Christ. Later we’ll encounter a direct discussion about supporting some called to minister. Here I have more a sense that we’re being cautioned about the charlatans and con men who try to use religious means to extract money from their marks.

Mostly this is a complicated and difficult to translate section. I’ve read several versions and it’s not much clearer to me beyond that clear warning. We don’t have apostles wandering the countryside anymore. So that, at least, is more of historical interest than present day application.


The Didache 11 – Flee From Every Evil Thing

Posted: June 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 11 – Flee From Every Evil Thing

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

My child, flee from every evil thing, and from every likeness of it. Be not prone to anger, for anger leads to murder. Be neither jealous, nor quarrelsome, nor of hot temper, for out of all these murders are engendered. My child, be not a lustful one. for lust leads to fornication. Be neither a filthy talker, nor of lofty eye, for out of all these adulteries are engendered. My child, be not an observer of omens, since it leads to idolatry. Be neither an enchanter, nor an astrologer, nor a purifier, nor be willing to took at these things, for out of all these idolatry is engendered. My child, be not a liar, since a lie leads to theft. Be neither money-loving, nor vainglorious, for out of all these thefts are engendered. My child, be not a murmurer, since it leads the way to blasphemy. Be neither self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered.

The Teaching continues with other “sins”. Notice how everything given here leads to graver sins: murder, fornication and adultery, idolatry, theft, or blasphemy. Does that mean that if you lie you will inevitably be a thief? No, of course not.

But this does explore and build upon the Sermon on the Mount. If you bring those behaviors into your life and beginning shaping yourself through them, then you are living on the way that leads to murder, to adultery, to theft, to idolatry, or to blaspemy. We never remain static. We can’t simply stay in one spot and tread water as human beings. Life is flowing constantly around us and we are moving toward becoming and being some type of human being. If you incorporate a pattern of telling untruth to others, you are shaping yourself into a dishonest person. At some point along that way, the dishonesty of theft will likely come to seem perfectly natural. That is so true that when you begin to adopt that way, in some sense you are already a thief.

The message is clear. These are markers of the way of death. If you perceive these within yourself, pray to break free from them so you can inhabit the way of  life instead.


The Didache 9 – Sweaty Alms

Posted: June 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 9 – Sweaty Alms

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.

Do you have the money for your alms identified? Does it “sweat” while you wait for the Spirit to show you to whom to give the money?

Or are you more like me, thinking about giving less that I should? I’m a long way from the point where I could say that my alms sweat in my hands. And I’m certainly no expert on listening to God. But I think this statement in the teaching really drives home the earthiness and immediacy of what it means to give. It is not some abstract transaction.

I pray for sweaty alms. And I fear that my prayer might be answered.