117. Holy Monday evening Bridegroom Matins, Holy Tuesday morning Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

It will help if you read the Gospel passages before you read this Post.

Holy Monday evening Bridegroom Matins

Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:15-46; 23:1-39

In tonight’s Gospel, the confrontation between Jesus and the authorities continues. They must stop this man. Killing him was the last option. The better way, the cleanest way was still to outwit him, discredit him. They’d had no success at this so far but now  they try one more time.

The Pharisees try to butter him up: “Teacher, we know you teach the truth” – they don’t believe a word of this – “so is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” A trick question: If he said No, the Romans would arrest him for treason. If he said Yes, the people would turn against him, for they hated paying high taxes to Rome. His answer: “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And all Jews knew what is God’s – everything. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the Son of God was quick-witted! but still… this was so clever, so masterful it makes me smile.

Next the Sadducees try. Sadducees disbelieved in resurrection and angels; they were almost secularists, though they did believe in God. The woman who had seven husbands: whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus’ answer is remarkable. He speaks as if he has personal knowledge of the next life, as if has been there – as he had. He says: You don’t understand the Scriptures or the power of God, and then explains that people don’t marry in heaven. To be precise he says in heaven people are not given in marriage – don’t get married in heaven. The  Church teaches that marriage is an eternal relationship which will take new form and be brought to perfection in heaven. Jesus goes on to challenge the Sadducees: “For God is not the God of the dead but of the living”. In Luke he adds the breathtaking line (for that time): “For all are alive to him”. Matthew says the people were astonished at his knowledge and authority.  And again, they didn’t catch him.

A lawyer then tests his orthodoxy: “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” All Jews knew the correct answer: ” Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength” Deuteronomy 6:5 and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Deuteronomy 19:17 Jesus answered correctly. He was not a heretic. Again, it didn’t work.

Now Jesus asks them a trick question: In the Scriptures some passages say the Messiah will be Son of God. Psalm 110:1  Others say he will be the son of David. 2 Samuel 7:12–16, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5–6. How can both be true? Only Jesus and his blessed Mother knew the answer to that: he was God who had been born into the house of David. But, of course, his accusers did not know. He got them. They could not explain the Scriptures which they claimed they knew so well.

They could not outwit him. Indeed he had made fools of them. So now there was only one way left to get rid of him. And Jesus pushes them into it. He turns on them. For the Passover was at hand, and he was intentionally timing his death, so that on Friday he would himself become the new Paschal sacrifice, the new Paschal lamb.

He attacks them, antagonizes them: (Forgive me, in what follows, for updating his words a bit.) Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, play actors, fakes. You lay heavy burdens on others but not on yourselves. You don’t love God: what you love is dressing up in fancy vestments and having people say, “Father,  father, you go first”. (I hate it when people try to get priests to go first for meals.) You devour widow’s houses. You win converts and make them sons of hell worse than yourselves. You play games with God, like politicians phrasing your words so you can weasel out of them. You are so scrupulous about little things, even tithe on your cooking herbs – the Church services must be done just so, every canon law must be kept rigidly, fasting must be done scrupulously, What? you held your finders wrong when you made the sign of the cross – while you ignore the great things: mercy, justice, faith. (Notice carefully: he does not say to ignore the rules or be sloppy about worship and fasting. He says we ought to do both, just don’t ignore the great things ) You are like whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside, filled with corruption inside. Murderers of prophets, serpents, den of snakes, you’ll all go to hell.

People must have stood with their mouths agape. The authorities must have been burning with anger. Now he has gone too far, now this is personal, now we will stop this man. He goes on: Therefore I will send you prophets. (Listen to him. I send you prophets. It is God alone who sends prophets.) And you will scourge them and kill them. And so on you will come the punishment for all the righteous blood shed on earth, from Abel to Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) whom you killed in the temple. All this will come on this generation.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I wanted to gather you like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not”. Then again he looks into the future, the not very distant future, the destruction of Jerusalem: “Behold, your house is left desolate.”

You had your chance. You failed. You rejected your Messiah. “I tell you you shall see me no more till you say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It’s that Messianic Psalm which people had sung on Palm Sunday as he rode into the city. You will see me no more till I come in glory. Then you will know that I am your Messiah.

In Matthew’s Gospel, with those words Jesus ended his public ministry to the Jews.

Holy Tuesday morning Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts

Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-51; 25:1-46; 26:1-2

Christ’s End of the Age teachings continue. Why these teachings this week? Because in Christ’s crucifixion, the End of the Old Age has begun. In his Resurrection, the New Age has commenced.

Of that day and hour, he says, no one knows, not the Son, not even angels in heaven but my Father only. As we said yesterday, it is very strange that some preachers know the date when their Lord Jesus did not.

Christ says he will come like a thief. If the householder had known when the thief was coming he would have stayed awake. So be alert: the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  

Two men will be in the field. One will be taken and the other left. Two women grinding at the mill, one will be taken and the other left. Some folks call this the “rapture”. I remember, some years ago, seeing bumper stickers: “Beware. In case of the rapture this car will have no driver” – apparently “’cause  I’m going to be taken to heaven and you aren’t!”

To the right: irreverent response 

The Church Fathers said little about this story. I’ve read that some said it referred simply to the general separation of the good and the evil at the End, the same as the sheep and the goats or Lazarus and the rich man. They did not speculate about details, nor should we. The point is simply: Always be prepared. 

Now we hear four parables, the first two on this theme: 

1 A servant is made ruler over a household in his master’s absence. He beats his fellow servants and gets drunk. Then his master returns unexpectedly, catches him, and cuts the hypocrite in two. (Lord have mercy!) There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth because of what he had lost. The moral: Always be prepared.

2 The parable of the ten bridesmaids, the origin of the hymn at the evening Bridegroom Matins services this week.

The first here is chant from Valaam Monastery in western Russia. The second is Byzantine chant.

Jewish weddings were in the evening. Bridesmaids went to the bridegroom’s house and escorted him to the ceremony. (It must have been lovely.) Jesus is the divine Bridegroom now to be married to his Church, united to his people in love forever. He is late in arriving. Some bridesmaids are prepared; some are not. They go out for more oil and while they are gone he arrives, and when they get to the wedding, he won’t let them in: “I don’t know who you are”, he says. There will come a time when time will run out – either the End of the Age or the end of our time on earth – and we will have chosen whether to be faithful or not. There will be no more time for us to choose. When will the End will come? We do not know. The moral: Always be prepared  

3 Then the parable of the talents. Talents were money: a gold talent worth about $6 million, a silver talent about $400,000. God has given each of us gifts, capabilities, resources of many kinds in varying amounts, but he has given each of us a fortune. He wants his own back with interest, expects each of us to develop what he gave us. Are you growing in the Faith? in gifts of the Spirit: love, patience, joy, gentleness, kindness, peace, self control? Are you developing whatever talents God has given you – musical or teaching or sympathetic listening or management or service of the poor or mathematics or…..a multitude of possibilities. Or are you like the man in the parable, just holding your own? or, God forbid, are you getting worse? You think God gave us gifts so we can just sit on them? If we do not produce, we will be cast into the outer darkness, away from the Light, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth at what we could have had and now will never have, because time is over now. The moral: Use it or lose it.

4 The famous parable of the Last Judgment, the sheep and the goats. We heard this also on the Second Sunday before Lent. Take note: this is the judgment of “the nations”, the Gentiles, the nonbelievers. Can nonbelievers be saved? Jesus’ answer is No, but Yes. No, because he said no one comes to the Father but by him. There is no salvation outside Christ, for only in God is salvation, and Christ is God. Salvation means to be united with Christ our God.

However, at the End there will no longer be any unbelievers! All will see Christ for who he is. So Yes, those who once were nonbelievers will then believe, and can enter the Kingdom. Jesus said so.

The standard of judgment will be this: Did people show love, mercy, compassion for the least of his brethren? To all who did, Christ will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” It will turn out that many had been serving Christ, even though they did not yet know it. This is not ours to judge but God’s alone. We must never put a limit on the mystery of how God works on earth, to God’s love, God’s mercy.

But if any had no love, ignored the needs of people, even if they went by the name of Christian: “Depart from me, you evildoers, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

In the End the test will be not doctrine but love. Here is the key: Correct doctrine is essential, but Christian doctrine is that love is more important than doctrine. “The greatest of these is love.”

Jesus finished his teachings. He said to his disciples: Now be ready. “I have told you. After two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Next: Tuesday evening Bridegroom Matins, Wednesday morning Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts 

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