Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Great Lent Week 3, Billy Graham
Volume 8 No. 464 February 23, 2018
III. Lent Meditation

Becoming Jesus

By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

Though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God
something to be grasped at.

Rather, he emptied himself
and took the form of a slave,
being born in the likeness of men.
(Philippians 2: 6-7)

"He emptied himself and took the form of a slave," the Apostle Paul recounted. A servant at the service of others his Apostle John recalled in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and the life was the light of the human race. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to his own, but his own did not accept him . . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us . . . .
(John 1: 1-14).

He came to his own, but his own people did not accept him . . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us . . . . (Ibid.). Astonishing! that the Word of God, the Son of God, the Light of the World chose to empty himself of all his prerogatives as God to live among us. He could have done it differently. Many of his people were waiting and praying for a Messiah but not an empty Messiah devoid of any real power for himself especially coming as an infant. His power was reserved for others, not himself, those who would accept him as he was as a man, vulnerable and empty. Every miracle, every entreaty he received he referred to his Father in prayer not as his divine Son but as the Son of Man. He had no advantage before God, no advantage more than we have which he decided to accept.

Often we think we can excuse our moral difficulties believing God will understand. Like Jesus in the Garden sweating blood – how many of us have sweat blood? – knowing the agony awaiting: his disciples in flight, writhing on a cross and his creatures mocking him, "save yourself if you can . . . [hah]" to be comforted by a criminal on a cross next to his cross before he breathes his last breathe? (Matthew 27: 40). Jesus had prayed to his Father the evening before: that "this cup" of suffering "pass from him," but his Father said, No. (Matthew 26: 29-32).

Becoming Jesus, we will see how that evolves between Christmas and Easter morning when we meet again three months and eighteen days from now. There can be no resurrection without a crucifixion. "What child is this who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping? Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary." (Bamley and Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, 1871).

We are here to celebrate the Christ who can fill our emptiness with his own if we are not too full of ourselves. I would admit that this life often seems hard, unendurable at times but less so to the patient, the humble and the meek who seek a more fulfilling life with God. Much of Jesus' time spent here with us as man was decided by others who sought him out and he adapted his life to theirs. I can not recall once when he decided to exercise his power except for the benefit of others – his travels interrupted by the blind, the crippled, the sick and the possessed as they did at Peter's home curing a paralytic breaking through the roof followed by an exhaustive day of problem-solving concluded late into the night at prayer with his Father and then off to other villages. (Mark 1: 29-39). After a rare respite on a mountain with Moses, Elijah and three bewildered Apostles he descended the mountainous retreat to settle an argument with a man complaining that his disciples could not cure his son which Jesus then obliged the boy's father after he told Jesus, "if you can do anything."

When asked by his disciples, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" [Jesus] replied, "Because you have so little faith." Following this Jesus returned to Capernaum, Peter's hometown, where he had helped so many people before when Peter is asked by a tax collector, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" (Some things never change, I suppose.) Jesus, however, didn't argue and had Peter 'go fishing' for the money and told him, You will find "a fourdrachma coin" in a fish's mouth to pay both our taxes. (Mark 9: 14-29).

Unless it was a matter of faith and morals Jesus' didn't argue or fuss as we often do. Jesus as a man had hope in a future beyond this world, had it as a boy working with his step-father, Joseph, had it with the hard-handedness of his Apostles and his enemies and has it with us. We just don't like change of any kind because we don't get to decide. Becoming Jesus was his Father's idea. Becoming Jesus as His Son is also our Father's idea.

So many of Jesus' parables center on servants and their service. Christ filled his emptiness with our trouble without complaint because he made us and accepted the work of his hands although we brought trouble upon ourselves. Those who eventually turn towards him will find peace in his emptiness. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11: 29). Our hearts are often hard, stubborn and unwilling to change because it would require an emptying of our self-righteous selves, the furthest thing from a small child who is open to everything. "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19: 14).

Jesus did not exaggerate. Jesus took the empty shell of a man, the old Adam, and made him into a new man, a new Adam, by fusing our human nature with his divine nature in one person, God's intent, actually, before the beginning of creation. The only real obstacle to our union with God is our stubbornness and pretense that we are full without him. This is the good news God sent angels to announce to humble shepherds in a field near a stable in Bethlehem.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

Becoming Jesus, In The Beginning

By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

Becoming Jesus can take two courses. One, the Son of Mary who became Jesus and, two, you and I who can become Jesus' disciples. We had nothing to do, at first, with becoming Jesus, his birth, death and resurrection. These were decisions Jesus and His Father had made long before we came into being. And, of course, without Christmas, Good Friday and Easter there would be no course for us to take to salvation. Christmas, Good Friday and Easter define our faith, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" recounted in the Book of Hebrews - such is our hope. (Hebrews 11: 1).

Our modern secular world, however, can not or does not want to accept the proposition that the "things hoped for," anything hoped for, is always a matter of natural faith and hope. We can not know the future but we can trust we have a future although we can not know its content. We naturally strive for and hope to hold onto the good things of life forever, but are never satisfied with the 'for-now-only.' Why so many in their state of dissatisfaction shun even the notion of death, of the end of it all. And then what follows? After birth and life, death becomes the last unknown fact of our lives. Yet there is an innate longing for life without end in all of us. Our days are consumed with the mystery of our tomorrows. Jesus became man on our terms "emptied himself" of his divine prerogatives to live through the mystery of our tomorrows as a man so we may learn the mysteries of birth, life and death which God envisioned for us and revealed in the course of Jesus' birth, life and death. (Philippians 2: 7).

The 'middle years' for us between birth and death became the principle focus of Jesus' life, daily becoming Jesus among us. His birth, death and resurrection would have been more than enough for our salvation, but where would we be in our instructions for life promised by Jesus, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"? (John 14: 6).

As we course through the early mostly unknown years of Jesus' childhood before his public ministry we may occasionally discover some insights from Jesus' experiences as a child and an adolescent. In Luke's account of Jesus infancy we have the story of Mary and Joseph's purification and Jesus circumcision that "every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, according to the dictate in the law of the Lord" as cited in Mosaic Law. Simeon, we are told, who circumcised Jesus and received his mother for purification, on seeing Jesus suddenly spoke out, "Master . . . my eyes have seen your salvation . . . a light . . . to the Gentiles and . . . the glory for your people Israel."

Mary and Joseph, we are told, "were amazed at what was said about [Jesus] particularly what Simeon told Mary Jesus' mother: 'this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel . . . and you yourself a sword will pierce through your own soul also – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed'.." The scene in the temple closes with Jesus, Mary and Joseph returning "to Nazareth" and abruptly concludes, "the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Luke 2: 22-40).

What the prophet Simeon told Mary and Joseph set the course of Jesus' home schooling until manhood.

They turned to the only study necessary, Sacred Scripture, the readings they heard as a family in the synagogue and their discussion of Scripture at home. Jesus, their son, would not forget the readings of Scripture, nor did Mary forget that Jesus was "destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, the sign of contradiction" he would become and that you Mary, "a sword will pierce through your own soul also – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (ibid.). She prepared her son and herself for the "fall and rise of many" and the wounds she and Jesus would incur during their lives.

Mary remembered what she had promised the angel Gabriel when she became pregnant with Jesus, "let it be done to me as you have said" (Luke 1: 38) which she now knew would include the "sign of contradiction" Jesus would become and the pain and suffering she and Jesus would endure. Years later Jesus would teach his disciples his mother's prayer to God in heaven . . . "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

From that time forward Mary grew in wisdom as did her son. Jesus' home schooling became apparent when at the age of twelve Mary and Joseph had lost and then found Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem "sitting among the teachers listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard were amazed at his understanding and answers." When reminded by his mother, "your father and I have been looking for you anxiously," Jesus replied, "Why have you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

Mary and Joseph did not understand [then] . . . and his mother kept all these things in her heart." She would later understand after Jesus began his public ministry. And Jesus," we are told, "increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:41-53). Jesus had come of age and his prayers to his Father in heaven became the predominant source of his wisdom for his remaining years at home and abroad winning "favor" with God and man up to and after God the Father at Jesus' baptism announced to the world, Jesus their Messiah, 'listen to him." (cf. John 1: 29-34).

From the beginning death stalked Jesus, first as a newborn who was threatened by King Herod and the impending danger revealed at his presentation in the temple when his mother is warned that a "sword would pierce her heart also." At the start of Jesus' public ministry we learn that the death of John the Baptist moved Jesus to leave his home in Nazareth to live in Capernaum at the cross roads of a world beyond the Jordan river where he was baptized. Jesus lived constantly with the knowledge he would die at the hands of his persecutors. Ironically, the source of life Himself knew he was born and doomed to die. Irony of ironies Jesus' death ultimately restored life for all human beings who would become Jesus themselves by finding their personal reconciliation with death through Jesus.

Many lapsed Christians knowingly or not place their hope in this world when once they had hope in life everlasting. Becoming Jesus may still ultimately bring the peace of everlasting life to his disciples as Jesus promised.

Peace I leave with you; [Jesus said] my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I will come to you.' If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. (John 14: 27-29).

Jesus shared these last sentiments of gratitude with his disciples on the evening before his arrest and death. He became their savior as he and his Father had intended and he would find in the finality of his earthly life the peace he sought for us which he would give freely to all others who become Jesus in their own lives.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

About The Author:

I was ordained a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, in 2006 at age 69. After graduating Saint John's University, New York, B.A. (1965) and M.A. (1967) in English, I taught a year of high school and a few years of college at Thomas Nelson Community College, Hampton, Virginia, and Kansas State University where I pursued, but did not complete, a doctoral program in English.

I began studies for the priesthood at Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell, Connecticut, where I received an M.S. in Divinity (2005), was ordained, and moved to Rockford, Illinois. I am in a continuing process of life advocacy, writing, teaching, speaking, and family counseling.

Becoming Jesus, In The Desert

By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

It is no coincidence that the precursor of the Christ, John the Baptist, began his ministry in a desert calling for repentance, and Jesus after he was baptized was driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit to endure the onslaught of Satan for forty days and forty nights. We should not wonder why the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted and later to be persecuted by Satan's agents and delivered up to death. Our credo affirms that Jesus, "true God" and "true man . . . was crucified, died and was buried and rose again from the dead." The Christ who became Jesus enabled us also to become Jesus and resist this world of temptation and sin. Jesus' suffering and crucifixion was not a singular event occurring only on Good Friday but reoccurred every day of his life until his crucifixion and continues every day in his Church until the end of time. Every saint understands this phenomenon. Saint Paul the Apostle to the world understood and bore the life of the crucified Christ in his body. I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ lives in me and the life I live is not my own. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2: 20).

This is the gospel Paul preaches and teaches, that "Life is Christ and death is gain." (Philippians 1: 21).

Ridding ourselves of temptations will be a great boon in our lives in eternity. Jesus knew that before entering the desert that he would be subjected to death dealing with the 'wages of our sins' more than we can possibly appreciate. In Mark's gospel account when Jesus began to draw large crowds after he had feed the four thousand who had followed him Christ revealed to his Apostles his future death. When Jesus for the first time asked his Apostles, "Who do people say that I am?", Peter answered, "You are the Messiah." Jesus then told them, "the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days." First shocked the Apostles could not or would not accept Jesus' suffering no less his death. Peter actually rebuked Jesus for saying such a thing which drew Jesus' condemnation, "Get behind me, Satan."

Jesus knew that his Apostles were still thinking as ordinary men and "not as God does," as we all do if we do not daily focus on our inheritance in heaven. (Mark 8: 27 ff). The Apostles had much to learn before they would become Jesus in the world as many Catholics who cling to their fears and passing unfulfilled lives in the world. Jesus would not relent, however. This would be his greatest challenge, not dying on the cross but softening the fearful hearts of his Apostles. Jesus did not relent, and in the end his Apostles' hearts were moved. They faced death without fear and passed through the world to happily gain everlasting life through him and with him and in him, finally understanding his invitation: Whoever, wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his life? ( Mark 8: 34-37).

It was all bound up in the Lord's relationship with his Apostles and those who followed, the bishops and priests of Jesus Christ with whom Jesus would entrust the keys of the kingdom of heaven to shepherd God's sons and daughters to life everlasting.

Christ's and the Church's mission can not be fully accomplished within the narrow confines of parish and diocesan buildings, facilities, programs and boundaries. Jesus could have settled in Peter's and Andrew's home and have filled his days with "good works and healing" in Capernaum, but he deliberately set out for other villages. After teaching in the town's synagogue Jesus' reputation spread quickly. " 'What is this? A new teaching'!", the people of Capernaum exclaimed. 'With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.' His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee." (Mark 1: 27-28). Anyone who wanted to see Jesus would know where to find him. Jesus did not have to look for others to teach and heal, but he choose to leave.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed many who were sick . . . . [The following day early in the morning] he rose and went out to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him followed him, and on finding him, said, 'Everyone is looking for you.' And [Jesus] said, 'Let us go to other towns, that I may preach there also. For that is why I have come.' (Mark 1: 32-38).

Jesus was taught by his God-fearing loving mother and step-father what the priest Simeon had revealed to his parents, that he would be the cause of "the rise and fall of many in Israel," that he would be a healing "sign of contradiction" which he would emblazon on his cross for all to see, for all those who would follow him into the kingdom of heaven. (Luke 2: 34). For the rest of his days Jesus spread his gospel of 'good news' of man's salvation, journeying from village to village to encounter whomever he met in his wanderings first in Galilee then in Judah and Jerusalem.

Jesus' last Apostle Paul explained why. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 14-17). The kingdom of God is as if a man [Jesus taught] should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4: 26-29).

A person "planted, [another] watered, but God gave the growth" (1 Corinthians 3: 6), but "scattering the seed" remains the most important work of Jesus and his Church, sowing the seed of faith from one field to another and another. Jesus spread the word of God person by person often in the most unlikely places like Samaria, a place of reprobates who had separated from house of David, where Jesus met a woman at the well in the town, alone and in the heat of the day, and asked her for a cup of water and in turn offered her a never failing supply of "living water." She became Jesus' first disciple and 'apostle' in Samaria. What Jesus' Apostles 'in training' must have thought seeing the 'Master conversing with such a woman, an outcast to the Jews. (John 4: 4 ff).

Jesus knows no bounds. For the rest of his days ahead Jesus continued to journey throughout Galilee, Judah and Jerusalem. He admitted to one candidate who asked to join him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20). Jesus was obsessed in planting the seeds of faith which his Apostles would reap after his death and the seeds of his Apostles which others after them would harvest in the continuous work of the Church. The parable of the sower and the seed was the first and most important parable Jesus would teach "to those who have ears to hear and ought to hear" who were willing to repent on the soil first tilled by John the Baptist and planted by the Christ Jesus Savior. (Mark 4: 3-9).

We can not repay the Lord for the gift of himself. Should I want to be sure of my union with Jesus I would take the advice of his beloved Apostle John, I would "conduct myself just as he did." (1 John 2: 6).

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

Freedom in Christ

by Mel Lawrenz.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5:1

What a bold claim!

Because Christ came, because he lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death, because he rose from the dead on the third day, we can be free! Free from what? One can think of all the things that put the human soul in bondage. Fear of death? Yes! Jesus went there, came through on the other side, and said we could join him. Sin? Yes! God wants us to be free from the taskmaster that is sin. He wants us to be liberated from our own limitations, our obsessions, addictions, and bondage. Evil? Yes! We can be free from the power of the Evil One as we come to believe that Jesus stomped on his head (Genesis 3:15) and Satan’s power can never rival God’s.

The cross of Christ frees us from spiritual diversions that do not move us closer to God. It tears down temples and rituals and regimens. It nullifies self-righteousness and spiritual pride. The apostle Paul says in this verse that this message of the crucifixion of Jesus, this once-for-all antidote for our spiritual disease, is Christ’s work and his grace.

So the choice is this - hang on to the notion that we are to perform well and hope God gives us a reward for a job well done, or come to the crucified Jesus, be humbled by him, and let his work set us free.

Ponder This:

What is limiting your freedom today? And how might this apply to you: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free"?

Greater Love

by Mel Lawrenz

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."
- John 15:9-13

Jesus said, "They hated me without reason." He was neither the first nor the last person to be subjected to senseless rejection and persecution. But because he was the only perfect, sinless one, the hatred played out against him was the vilest the world would ever see. His haters called light darkness; they saw righteousness and called it wickedness. They even called the work of God the deeds of the devil.

We've heard stories of brave sacrifices—a soldier throwing his body on a hand grenade, a bystander pulling someone off a subway track, a firefighter charging into an inferno only to lose his own life. These are stirring, and they show humanity at its best. But Jesus' sacrifice was not the impulse of a desperate moment. He moved with resolve toward his own end. There truly is no greater love. We could look through every page of history and into every corner of the universe, and we wouldn't find anything that even comes close. Jesus looked at his friends, told them he would be laying down his life, and then required one simple thing of them (and us): love each other.

And so our one real chance at loving others is if we fully receive the love of God for us and let it change our entire perspective on our relationships with others. But this won't happen by a casual remembrance of the love of Jesus. When Jesus said, "Remain in my love," he meant we are to dwell there. We are to be conscious every hour of the day that the bedrock truth of our lives—the core of our identity—is we are loved by Jesus the Christ. Keeping our focus on the cross is the way to remain in his love.

Ponder This:

What do you have to say to Jesus who laid down his life for you?


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