To Judge or NOT to Judge

“Judge not, that you be not judged”, Christ commanded his disciples (Mat 7:1).

But what are we to make of that statement?  We make judgements every day.  We judge how good the fruit is for purchase.  We judge how well our children are doing in school.  We judge the quality of the service that we receive from a repairman.

To complicate matters, Christ also said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).  To understand the nature of Christ’s apparently contradictory statements, we have to understand the language in which Christ spoke and we have to understand the nature of judgment.

In everyday usage, Christ spoke Aramaic, which is a Semitic language, much like Hebrew or Arabic.  Semitic languages are famous for exaggerated language as a figure of speech.  For example, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, speaking Arabic, used to speak of the “mother of all battles”, a colorful exaggerated term for his war.

Quite often, Christ used exaggerated Aramaic language to address his audience.  They, being used to it, had to carefully discern the context in order to determine the nature of the exaggeration and its extent.  For example, Christ said, “Call no man your father upon the earth” (Mat 23:9).  This was exaggerated language.  He did not mean that one should address his father by, “I know you are my father, Jack, but I can’t call you father!”.  Christ meant it in a specific context.  Thus, if you read the context of Mat 23, you will find that Christ was referring to the Pharisees who wanted to be honored by men in the use of honorific titles such as “rabbi” (meaning teacher) or “father”.  It was this kind of title, which men used to inflate their importance over other men, that Christ said we should avoid.  Christ also said, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  The term “hate” is an exaggeration and means “love less”.  Christ did not literally ask people to hate their families.

There are many examples for exaggerated language in the New Testament.  Thus, one should not simply take the statement at face value without this understanding.  When one reads the context of “Judge not” in Mat 7, it becomes apparent that Christ meant it to refer to people judging without properly judging themselves.   He did not mean that we are not to judge at all.  “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  (Mat 7:4-5).  In other words, we are to let the detailed judgment begin with us, before we can begin to judge our brother.  Christ did not deny that we are to eventually address the “speck in our brother’s eye”.

But how are we to judge our brother?  To answer, we need to clarify the word judgment.  One can judge by observation that something is right or wrong without condemnation, or one can judge with condemnation.  Condemnation is final (James 5:6).  For example, we judge our children but we should not condemn them.  If our child lies, we should judge that they have lied.  But if we are a good parent, we should not condemn them in a final dismissal.  Rather, we should try to help them not to lie.  St. Paul expected Christian to judge their fellow Christians without condemnation.  “Do you not know that we [Christians] are to judge angels?  How much more, matters pertaining to this life!”.  St. Paul expected the Corinthian church to judge contentious issues between themselves.  Christ expected the same thing (Mat 18:15-17).  Specifically, St. Paul was addressing the fact that the Corinthian church had failed to judge a brother who was sinning seriously and continuing without correction in their midst (I Cor 5:1-2).  Later, when this brother was sorrowful and had repented, St. Paul admonished the Corinthians to forgive and comfort him (II Cor 2:5-8). Judgement without condemnation is to lead to repentance.

According to the teachings of the Church, it is actually a sin to observe a brother/sister continuing in sin and not to help him/her, which requires a judgement that they are sinning.  If we see our brother getting drunk, or getting inappropriately romantically involved, or using foul language, we should be able to judge that this is indeed happening and find a way to help them or refer them to the clergy.  We thus come back to Christ’s statement that we should not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.  It is correct judgement, with wisdom and mercy, that enables us to help our children, our spouses and our fellow Christians.

Tears of Repentance

 “O most holy Lady Theotokos, the light of my darkened soul, my hope, my protection, my refuge, my rest, and my joy: …grant me tears of repentance…

A Prayer to the Theotokos

“And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment… And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

Luke 7:37-38, 50

“But the woman not having yet received the Word (for she was still a sinner), honoured the Lord with what she thought the most precious thing in her possession—the ointment; and with the ornament of her person, with her hair, she wiped off the superfluous ointment, while she expended on the Lord tears of repentance: wherefore her sins are forgiven.”

– Clement of Alexandria

“…if all the rest have no faith, will God curse all the rest? that is, the population of the whole earth, except about two hermits in the desert, and in His well-known mercy will He not forgive one of them? And so I’m persuaded that though I may once have doubted I shall be forgiven if I shed tears of repentance.”

– Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov – “Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

“God washes away sins by the tears of repentance.”

– Leo the Great

“Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.”

  • 2 Kings 20:5

 “My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.”

  • Job 16:20

“Hearken unto my prayer, O Lord, and unto my supplication; give ear unto my tears”.

  • Psalms 38:15

“My tears have been my bread by day and night, whilst it is said to me daily: Where is thy God?”

  • Psalms 41:3

“They that sow with tears shall reap in rejoicing.”

  • Psa 125:5

“And who can now fail to understand that the holy prophet said for our instruction: ‘Every night will I wash my couch and water my bed with my tears’    For if you take it literally for his bed, he shows that such abundance of tears should be shed as to wash the bed and water it with tears, the couch of him who is praying, for weeping has to do with the present, rewards with the future, since it is said: ‘Blessed are ye that weep, for ye shall laugh;’    or if we take the word of the prophet as applied to our bodies, we must wash away the offences of the body with tears of penitence.”

– St. Ambrose of Milan

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

– Rev. 7:17

A Short Guide to the Psalms of the Bible

The book of Psalms, also known as the Psalter, stands in a unique position in the Old Testament and even among all of the Holy Scriptures of the Orthodox Church.  In a way not found elsewhere in the Scriptures, the Psalms reflect the upwards prayers of man to God (under the inspiration of God). The Jewish church used the Psalms as its central worship prayers for centuries and this practice was adopted by the Christian Church following Christ, and continues to our day.  The Psalms are richly interspersed in the Divine Liturgy and Holy Day services of the Orthodox Church and are a significant part of the Synekdemos or Daily Prayer book.  Bishop Demetri Khoury of the Antiochian Archdiocese, in his foreword to Christ in the Psalms, said that the Psalter was a “golden thread [which runs] through the beautiful garment of Orthodox worship.” The Psalter is so prevalent in Orthodox worship that St. John Chrysostom said that wherever one looks in the Church, he finds the Psalter “first, last, and central.”

Most of us read or pray the Psalms in English, which, in the Orthodox Church, are translated from the liturgical Greek Old Testament, which itself was translated by the Jews from the original Hebrew.  This is important to know because they contain segments of Hebrew poetry or Israelite cultural elements, some of which are lost in translation or minimally, may sound strange outside the original language and culture.  The Greek numbering, which we use here, differs slightly from the traditional Western numbering familiar in most English translations.  Under the Greek numbering there are 151 psalms in the collection.  The name “Psalms” comes from the Greek word which means to pluck on the harp, referring to their ancient liturgical musical setting.   The Psalms themselves refer to this musical setting (e.g. Ps. 32).  Today, in the Church, when they are put to music, they are exclusively chanted.  Otherwise, they are prayed in plain, unchanted vocal reading.

Under the Jewish setting, and as used by Jesus Christ, they were called Tehilim, which means “praises” in Hebrew, but this refers only to a kernel of the Psalms which cast the name on all of them.  The Psalms consist of not only prayers of praise but of jubilation, lament, thanksgiving, penitence, complaint, supplication, intercession, as well as God’s messages to man, and a rehearsing of God’s work among men, among others.  They yield to a great degree the range and depth of human religious experience in relationship with God.  On a spiritual level therefore, they provide holy meditative and prayerful tools for the Christian pilgrim and they open the door to a deeply personal and mystical relationship with the God who covers us in all of the depth and emotions of the joyful but sometimes difficult and sorrowful Christian life.

The Psalms arise out of historical and geographical settings in God’s workings with man, details of which gives us critical insight into their motivation and inspiration.  Layered on top of these is a rich set of interpretative traditions based on typologies and spiritual or metaphorical interpretations some of which existed in the Jewish Church and later were significantly expanded in the Christian Church.  Both of these aspects of understanding the Psalms have been traditionally important in the Church, as it has for all parts of Scripture.  The interpretative tradition of the ancient Jewish Church is particularly important because it is upon this basis that we have the Messianic prophecies to which Christ referred to himself.

Many Church Fathers were known to have composed commentaries on the Psalms, though we don’t have all of them in direct manuscript tradition.  One well-known commentary is the one of St. John Chrysostom that generally starts from a historical perspective, attempting to set each psalm in its original context.

The Psalms are traditionally ascribed to King David but it is clear that this tradition, like the name of the book, was something true of a kernel of Psalms, which was cast upon all.  That was a common approach to collections of writings in the ancient world.  References to Babylon and other late historical settings show that the collection of Psalms grew in Ancient Israel long after King David, as God’s inspiration continued to work.

 

Historically, the Psalms reflect the religion and the national and individual experience of Old Testament Israel and the Jews.  The Psalter was used for hundreds of years in this context during worship in the Temple and synagogues before Christ.  There are references to the beauty of God’s Law given by Moses, to God’s deliverance from Egypt and later from the captivity in Babylon and to a longing for Jerusalem (Zion), to specific events relating to the monarchy of Israel, to the sacrificial system, to musical instruments in use among the people and to the warfare of the nation.  There are names of specific Old Testament individuals such as King David, King Saul, Absalom and Cush the Benjamite. There are geographical references to the Holy Land with references such as the wilderness of Judah, Mount Hermon, Mount Tabor, and Mount Zion.  Therefore in order to fully appreciate the Psalms, it is useful to understand all the Old Testament with its history and geography as the stage for these writings.  Also, because the Psalms reflect Old Testament revelation and spirituality, they contain requests of God that would not be made by God’s people after Christ’s revelation of the true spirit behind the Old Testament in Matthew 5 of the New Testament.   One such request, for example, is to destroy the persecuting enemies of the supplicant together with their children.  The Psalms show a growth of Israel religion, under God’s progressive revelation, that reaches great spiritual heights.  Yet, even at their height they do not attain the spiritual level of the New Testament revelation of Christ and thus required a proper placement in the Church.

Since the Church adopted the Psalms as the main prayers of the Church, the application and interpretation of the Psalms for the Church are based on typology to the spiritual life of the Christian and the Church.  The enemies described in the Psalms are a type of the demons and the spiritual enemies of the Christian.  The original requests for the defeat of national and personal enemies becomes requests for the defeat of evil spiritual forces besetting the Christian.  The references to burnt offerings and other physical sacrifices become, in type, a references to the spiritual sacrifices of the Christian and the ultimate sacrifice of Christ as given in the Eucharist.  The longings for Jerusalem and Zion become longings for the Kingdom of God. The nation of Israel typifies the expanded Israel of God – the Church.  King David with God as his Father is a type of the Messiah, the only Begotten Son and King.  Thus, in the Church, the Psalms are transformed and “baptized” to the advanced spiritual life of the Christian.

The Psalms were written with great poetic skill, some of which comes across in translation.  Lost in the translation is the rhythmic Hebrew poetry that emphasizes stressed syllables rather than words and lands on the ear more like the semi-regular waves on the ocean beach, as would have been chanted by Jesus.  Also lost in translation are acrostic poems such as Psalm 118.  This Psalm contains 22 stanzas of 8 verses each, where each of the 8 verses of a stanza begin with one letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, which is not easy task to accomplish and still have the Psalm flow with grace and meaning.  Something that is transmitted in translation, including in English, is the parallelism with similar thoughts given in sequence.  One example is given from Psalm 17:

The pangs of death compassed me (A)

and the floods of iniquity sore troubled me. (A)

The pangs of Hades compassed me about; (B)

the snares of death prevented me. (B)

The Psalter was historically divided into 5 sections.  In the Church, for liturgical purposes, the Psalter is divided into 20 kathismata. Each kathisma is further divided into three stases. Each stasis contains between one and three chapters. The exception to this is Psalm 118 which, due to its length, constitutes the entire XVIIth Kathisma. Each of the divine services contains fixed portions of the Psalter that are read in prayer or chanted each time the service is celebrated. In addition, certain services of the Daily Cycle contain prescribed kathisma prayer readings. These prescribed readings rotate daily so that outside of Great Lent the Psalter is read through once in its entirety in a single week. During the Lenten fast, the kathisma prayers are accelerated so that the Psalter is read through in its entirety twice each week.

Christ and the disciples chanted the Psalms as well (Mt. 26:30).  In the gospels this is done in the context of celebrating the Passover, the liturgical tradition of which would have associated the singing of Psalms 112-117 in Hebrew, called the Hallel Psalms.  These were sung because there were 5 major themes in the tradition of the Jewish Church associated with these special Psalms for Passover: the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, revival of the dead, and the difficulties preceding the Messianic age, all of which were meaningful in type to Christ’s life, baptism, teachings, miracles and crucifixion. Specifically, Psalm 114 and 115 say:

The pangs of death compassed me, and the perils of Hades came upon me.

I found trouble and sorrow, and I called upon the name of the Lord:

O Lord, deliver my soul…

For He hath delivered my soul from death,

mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.

I will be well pleasing before the Lord in the land of the living…

 

What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me?

I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord…
O Lord, I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, and the son of Thine handmaid;

Thou hast broken my bonds in sunder.

I will sacrifice to Thee a sacrifice of praise [Hebrew: a thank offering]…

I will pay my vows unto the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.

Christ sung this immediately after he shifted the meaning of the Passover from a lamb sacrificed yearly in the Temple to Himself as the eternal Lamb of God and as He shifted the Jerusalem Temple’s thank offerings to the thank offering of the cup of his blood, the Eucharist. In a similar manner, Christ recognized, as did the apostles after him, other Messianic expectations in the Psalms that pointed to many aspects of Christ’s incarnate life as the only Begotten of the Father.  The resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.

In a letter to someone by the name of Marcellinus, St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the Psalms are the one part of Scripture that we can mimic in prayer and make it our own words.  In this letter, he covers in detail how each of the Psalms may be used on different occasions of spiritual need in the Christian life.  He summarizes the benefit of reading them well: “In the first place, it is fitting that the sacred writings should praise God in poetry as well as prose, because the freer, less restricted form of verse, in which the Psalms are cast, ensures that by them men should express their love to God with all the strength and power they possess…But those who do sing as I have indicated, so that the melody of the words springs naturally from the rhythm of the soul and her own union with the Spirit, they sing with the tongue and with the understanding also, and greatly benefit not themselves alone but also those who want to listen to them.”

Being A Friend of God

God is the creator of the entire universe and all of us, by Christ, who is the Word of God (Eph. 3:19, John 1:1).  The relationship of the created to the Creator, as was known throughout the ancient world before Christ, was one of awe, respect, worship, fear and submission.    If one looks at the way gods were portrayed in the ancient world, we see mainly gods manipulating humans to the liking of the gods, as in the Iliad by the Greek poet Homer.  We may see the gods bestowing favor to humans or even, in rare instance,  inviting a human (or half-human and half-god) to their dinner banquet, as is the case of Tentalus, in the Greek myths.  To my knowledge, we do not see a god leave heaven and condescend to be with man in order to be in intimate friendship with him.   This only fully happened in the religious accounts of man in the gospels of the New Testament.

We get a premonition of this direction in Genesis in the Garden of Eden where God is described to be “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8), or when Abraham meets and hosts three angels in human form and one of the them turns out the be the “the Lord” (Gen. 18-19).  Jesus Christ did that in a timeless way and this message was a surprise to the Greek world.  The question that was asked by the Greeks is: “why would a god leave the comforts of their heavenly abode to be with man walking in the dirt of the earth and suffering the daily grind of life”.  This was so puzzling that it seemed to lack wisdom to the Greeks.  St. Paul pointed this out by writing “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness…” (I Cor. 1:23).  Christ showed unfathomable humility to do this:  “But [Christ] made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).

Therefore it comes as a an even greater upset to the understanding of the world of the divine that  the Creator of the Universe not only condescended to man to live with him but called on men to become His friend.  This was foreshadowed with particular individuals in the Old Testament.  First, Abraham was in an intimate relationship with God to the point of haggling with God about how many righteous people could be reduced in a city before God would act to destroy it.  Abraham argued God down from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10! (Gen. 18:23-32).  In that intimacy with God, Abraham was viewed by God as His friend:  “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend” (Isaiah 41:8, II Chron. 20:7, James 2:23). Similarly, Moses the great prophet of Israel was considered such:  “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

The friendship to which God calls men to partake is unlike earthly friendships.  It requires a deeper relationship with the Creator who made the nature of man:  “You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14).   “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (vs. 15).  This sets up a strong contrast between this friendship and the opposite ways of the world:  “You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Let us partake of the friendship that God offers us through obedience to His will, for only in this will we come to know the true nature of friendship with God and man.

Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani!

Matthew 27:46-49
46 Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

46 (in Greek) περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων · Ἠλὶ ἠλὶ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι; τοῦτ’ ἔστιν · Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες;

47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said , This man calleth for Elias.
48 And straightway one of them ran , and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink .
49 The rest said , Let be , let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

Mark 15:34-36
34 And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

34 (in Greek) καὶ τῇ ἐνάτῃ ὥρᾳ ⸃ ἐβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ · Ἐλωῒ ἐλωῒ λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι; ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με;

35 And some of them that stood by , when they heard it, said , Behold , he calleth Elias.
36 And one ran and filled a sponge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink , saying , Let alone ; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down .

Psalm 22:2
2 My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me

In Hebrew:

pic

__________

Question:

Why the different uses: Eli and Eloi, and why did people reference Elijah?

There were two languages that were of main interest among Jews of Christ’s day and in Judea: Hebrew and Aramaic. Hebrew was used for reading the Scriptures because that is the language in which they were written. However, due to the exile in Babylon, Jews in Judea no longer spoke Hebrew on a daily basis. They spoke Aramaic, a related Semitic language. However they read the Scriptures in Hebrew in the synagogue before reading an Aramaic translation. They also used a few well-known Hebrew words and names while speaking Aramaic.
Both Matthew and Mark quote the saying of Jesus on the cross transliterated from Aramaic into Greek, the language in which they were writing the gospels. Jesus would have spoken most of his words in Aramaic, the language of the people. Matthew adds one variation in that he gives one of the words in Hebrew. In Judea, those familiar with some major names and words from the Hebrew Bible would have used them while speaking Aramaic. Much like saying “chef”, a French word, in English.
Jesus’ saying in Aramaic would be transliterated into English as “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani”. If it was to be said in Hebrew it would be transliterated as “Eli, Eli, lama azavtani”. Matthew gives the first words in Hebrew and the last words in Aramaic (“Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani”), while Mark quotes all of Christ’s saying in Aramaic. This is not surprising since the gospel writers sometimes paraphrase the sayings of Jesus or give shortened versions of his words for various linguistic and theological reasons particular to their audience. Since Matthew is writing to Jews they would know some of both languages. The version that Matthew gives is closer to what Jesus said since what the crowd says makes sense after it is based on “Eli” and not “Eloi”.
In Hebrew, “Eli” (pronounced eh-lee’) is ambiguous. It could mean (1) “my God” or (2) “Elijah” in shorted form. The full name of Elijah in Hebrew is pronounced as eh-lee-ya-hu and means “my God is Yahweh”. (“Elias” is a Greek transliteration of “Elijah” used in the gospels). In Hebrew, “Eli” was a shortened form of multiple names that begin with “Eli” (such as Eliezer) but Elijah was the most well-known if there was no clarity. Jesus could be taken as saying either “Elijah, Elijah why have you forsaken me?” or “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” The crowd thinks he is saying the former. However, rather than saying his own words complaining about God, which Protestant theologians have claimed, Christ was in reality quoting the beginning of Psalm 22 and expecting the hearers to know the rest, since it was considered a Messianic psalm and was referring to his life.
Another point to consider is that in late stages of crucifixion, a man is struggling with asphyxiation and has difficulty breathing and speaking. A short phrase summarizing Psalm 22 is all that Christ may have been able to say for a long period of time. Lord have mercy on your sevants!

The Little Wheat Kernel

A story for children 99 years and younger
The little wheat kernel opened its eyes and looked up, only to squint. The warm sun was too bright to look upon but was smiling down on the little kernel. All the while, a breeze of cool air kissed his cheeks. All around the little kernel, other kernels opened their eyes – his brothers and sisters – and smiled. All of them were in the stalk together and were just beginning to feel alive. The cold rains had passed and they were swaying in the wind, as if dancing, with new life and vigor. He saw the blue sky and, far away, white clouds floating in the laziness of the morning.

He remembered vaguely the night before today. He was half asleep then, but fondly he was being caressed by moonlight from the shimmering circle set in the speckled black sky. He remembered more now! The moon kissed him and told him to be patient and wait for God; God — the creator of heaven and earth and all that there is. God, who gave the rains and made the sun to shine. God — who gave growth to all of his brothers and sisters – and, of course, to him too. God must be beautiful, he thought. There is so much beauty all around. How can such beauty come from a God that is less beautiful? I wish I could see God, he thought.

From far away, the little wheat kernel heard the laughter of children. They were running through the wheat fields trying to catch each other. Once, a boy came very close to him. The child looked at him with wide open blue eyes, and at his brother and sister kernels. The little kernel looked right back and noticed that the child’s golden hair was also dancing in the wind. And what a beautiful face the boy had! “Do the angels in heaven have this kind of face?” he wondered. He knew about angels from the moon. The moon must have seen the angels dancing on the clouds. What a wonderful sight they must be. The boy ran away to follow his friends and the sound of giggles died away in the distant hills.

The little kernel went for a short snooze. But soon he was awoken by loud sounds in the field. Sounds he did not like — rough and deep voices. They spoke about the harsh master and owner of the field. They did not like their master and were going to get even with him now that he went away to a far country. They were going to show him that it does not pay to go away. They were going to damage the master’s wheat fields and all the kernels there. Why would they do that, thought the little kernel. The master of the field was a gentle and hardworking man. He had planted the wheat in due season and taken care of its growth.

The deep voices all around the little kernel became terrible. Shouting voices were ordering commands of destruction. Then there came the harsh sounds of metal knives hitting against wheat stalks. Thrash! Slash! Cut! Kernels of wheat were falling all around him like flies! He heard cries and moans and bitter regrets. Brother was calling after sister as they fell through the air. Then — he felt the hit! Cold metal punched the stalk where he grew up and all of his family was knocked down to the earth. The little kernel too fell on the ground. A leather sandal stomped on his face and he cried out: “God help me! Where are you my God? Why has God abandoned me?”

And then quiet…

The little kernel slept for a long time before he woke up with many of the other sleepy kernels and found himself in a large sack. The weight of all the others was crushing down on him. He did not know where they were but he found that he no longer had any chaff around him. What they were going to do with him and his family?

Then he heard the master’s voice – the master of the wheat field. He was back from his journey! The master must have been the one that saw the destruction and picked the little kernel and his brothers and sisters up from the ground, cleaned them of chaff and put them here in this sack. The little kernel felt happy. He knew the master and that he was kind.

donk

Without notice, the master picked up the sack of wheat kernels and poured them out on a large, round and grooved stone. The little kernel fell among them. Another heavy milling stone was set to roll on top of the grooved stone and began to crush the kernels. Why was the master — the good master — doing this? The pain was unbearable. The little wheat kernel was cracking into a thousand pieces and he felt that his life was over. He was no longer that little kernel but just crushed bits of wheat everywhere. The strange thing was that he still knew who he was and felt as though nothing happened to the inside of him – his soul. It seems as if it did not matter much what happened to his body. He still felt alive! How was this possible?

His mind began racing through his memories. All at once, his entire life came before his eyes. He remembered that once there was a bold man who came through the fields where he had lived. The man was followed by other men — and women too. He was a man whose face he could look upon for hours. That man’s face was sincere and earnest, kind and strong, compassionate and purposeful. He listened to the words that came from that man’s mouth, words which the little kernel could not understand then. The man had said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. And, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted”. I am mourning right now, he thought. And my spirit is downcast!

Wait! He now remembered! That man had also said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” Why did that man say that? Why did the little wheat kernel have to die? He wanted to live forever. The little kernel did not want to die!

The wheat kernel could look down on all his pieces and see that he and all the other crushed pieces of wheat were put in a cloth sack labeled with the word “flour”. Is that what they had become?

The little wheat kernel saw that the master took the flour sack, with the pieces of the little kernel in it, threw it over his shoulder and trudged down the road. The master headed straight for a stone building. In the building the master put the sack of flour down in a room containing all kinds of pots and utensils. Next to the sack the little kernel could see another sack made of animal skin. Then, the little kernel heard voices in the animal skin sack. There were many voices; all scared and upset just like him. They told him their story.

They used to be small baby grapes – at first they awoke to find themselves green but then as time went on, they darkened and became a deep red. They too were kissed by the sun whose strength they drank in everyday. And they too were told by the moon to wait patiently for God. They loved the rain because it made them fat. In those days, they felt the juices flowing in sweetness around their bodies.

They also had heard terrible voices. Men with hatred in their hearts broke down the stone walls that the master of the vineyard had built around the vines holding them. The men came with metal instruments of destruction and cut down the vines. The vines all collapsed and the grapes flew down to the ground, some of them spilling their juice out on the ground.

press

When the master of the vineyard came back he rescued the grapes and took them to a large winepress. In the winepress they felt the pain as the master squeezed them together, and all of their red grape juice began flowing into a stone vat. From the winepress vat they were poured into large skin sack. In the sack they sat for a while as their juice became stronger and stronger. One day, without notice their master took the skin sack and also brought them to this same stone building.

The little kernel asked the grapes if they remembered the same bold man who walked through the wheat fields talking about the Kingdom of God. The grapes did remember that same man because he had walked through the vineyard. They told the little kernel that they remembered the man saying: “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same will bring forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.”

Just then, a woman entered into the room and took the flour from the cloth sack. The little kernel was part of that flour. She mixed the flour with water, formed the dough and pressed into a mould. The mould had a cross and other signs on it. The shaped dough was baked in the oven and came out ready as beautiful round bread stamped with the cross and other signs on it.

The little wheat kernel and grapes were feeling something strange pass over them — as though they were being prepared for something important. Into the room came a man in black vestments and took the loaf of bread and the juice from the skin sack that had now become wine. This stone building was a church and the man in black vestments was a priest!

The priest poured out the wine with warm water into a chalice. The priest then took the bread with the little kernel, cut it up, prayed over it and put it inside the chalice. He then said a prayer asking the bread to become the very body of Jesus Christ and the wine to become the very blood of Christ! The little wheat kernel suddenly felt united with the grapes in a very strong bond of love. What strange events!

The priest carried out the chalice containing the wine and bread, the grapes and the wheat kernels, into the nave of the church and called in a loud voice: “In the fear of God with faith and with love draw near!” The little kernel saw people coming up to eat of him, who had become the body of Christ, and drink of his friends the grapes, who had become the blood of Christ. And then, the little kernel saw the boy! — that beautiful boy who had come to look at the little kernel in the field. The boy’s face was like an angel just like before, but now he came up to the chalice with his hands crossed over his breast. The boy opened wide his mouth and the little kernel felt himself go down into the boy’s mouth by a spoon. Inside the boy the little kernel felt warm and strong.

Suddenly, the little kernel saw what he had always desired to see. Inside the boy, the little kernel saw the face of God! The face of God was in Jesus Christ – and it was the most beautiful face he had ever seen. At that time, the little kernel knew that he was starting to be in love with Jesus Christ. He also knew that he would never stop being in love with Jesus. Truly, the little wheat kernel would be living happily forever after, because now he was really alive!

Stewardship and the Church

Stewardship means performing the role of a steward. The word “steward” has evolved to mean several professional designations but its main meaning denotes the simple idea of one who carries out the responsibilities of maintaining or sustaining something that has been entrusted to him by someone else: whether servants, finances, or an entire household. The etymology of the word in Old English signifies “house guardian”, yet the importance in the meaning centers on the idea of taking care of things owned by someone else.
The first explicit encounter of this role among biblical personalities is found in Genesis 15:2. There, Abraham explains that he is childless and the only one to fill the role of steward of his household is Eliezer of Damascus. The literal Hebrew designation of Eliezer’s role is a term that means “one who has responsibility for the household possessions”. As we trace the role of Eliezer in Genesis 24, we find that it is expansive, even encompassing finding a wife in a far-away land for Abraham’s son Isaac. In that chapter, he is described as the eldest servant of Abraham’s house, “that ruled over all that he had”. This man was more than a simple servant; he was a steward. A servant carries out the precise word of the master. A steward, on the other hand, makes decisions about the household in line with the master’s overall wishes and with the master’s substance. He rules the master’s possessions and household – not his own.
Without using the word, the Old Testament makes use of the idea of steward as an analogy to the role that man has been assigned by God. God is clearly shown to be the Creator of heaven and of earth (Genesis 1) and as Creator, the real Owner of all that is. He reproves His people when they want to offer sacrifices without recognizing that He is the one who provides them from His ownership (Psalm 50 – English numbering).
God created man in his image (Gen. 1:27). In the Old Testament, this meant that God made man to rule the Creation, just as God does, and on His behalf: a steward of Creation. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (vs. 28). “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Gen. 2:15). Man was to give his time and energy to steward the Creation. He was to take care of it for the glory of the Owner, and to partake of it as he needed. He naturally, in thankfulness and in worship, offered part of it back to God as did Cain and Abel in the first offering of fruits of the earth and animal sacrifices mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 4). This principle, that man stewards and offers to God what God has provided for man in the first place, will, many years later, show up in the Divine Liturgy in words that are said to God of the offering: “Thine own, from Thine own, we offer to Thee, in all and for all.”
At the beginning, God was shown to be the Creator and Owner of all and that man is his steward. However, in the ancient world, as today, the idea became perverted. The principle of private ownership set in, apart from any stewardship to God. As private owners, people began to believe that they could simply focus on making “their own” wealth. As a result, they neglected the land, the poor and the work of God. This was to be corrected when God called the nation of Israel from among the nations. God gave Israel several major laws for stewardship that were to run counter to the principles then operating in the world. These laws were a limited revelation until the full revealing of the Holy Spirit was to come, but they were of high principle nevertheless.
One set of laws involved the stewardship of the poor, as opposed to their neglect. If a man, through poverty had indebted himself as a servant (slave) then he was to be released to freedom the seventh year (Ex. 21:1-4). His poverty was not to claim his freedom for the rest of his life and his “owner” would bear the economic consequences. If one owned property that produced harvest, one was not to glean everything from the property but to ensure that some was left in the field for the poor (Lev. 19:10). This principle sustained Ruth before she became one of the ancestors of our Lord (Ruth 2:2). Another principle involved lending money to the poor without expecting interest in return (Ex. 22:25). Yet another principle declared a land restoration every 50 years (a Jubilee), so that those families that had lost their land in the process of poverty could be restored to the land of their forefathers (Lev. 25:8:13). This was an “economic loss” to the owners but a reminder that they were really only stewards and not owners.
Another set of laws involved the stewardship of the land itself. The land was to be worked six years and the seventh year it was to lie fallow (Lev. 25:4-5). If new trees were planted, the fruit was not to be reaped until the fourth year (Lev. 19:23). Even if there was to be a war, fruit trees were not to be cut down for the purpose of the war because they were created to bear fruit and should be used thus (Deut. 20:19-20). If a tree was to be found with birds or eggs, the mother was to be let go before taking those (Deut. 22:6). These laws of God went some way to show man the road back to become a steward of Creation.
More importantly, a set of laws stipulated the stewardship of God’s religious work which meant supporting the tabernacle or temple, the priesthood, the festivals and the vulnerable of society. One of these was the law of the three tithes. The Israelites were to give a tithe (an Old English word for a tenth, or 10%) of their produce to the Levites, God’s religious officials in Israel, who were serving in and around the tabernacle or the temple (Num. 18:21). If the agricultural tithe was to be converted to money instead of produce, one would be required to add a fifth to it, making it 12% instead. Even the Levites were to tithe of their tithe directly in sacrifices to God. A second tithe was designated for the celebration of God’s festivals which was also shared with the Levites (Deut. 14:22-27). A third tithe was to be given every third year and was used to finance those that needed extra help including the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow (vss. 28-29). Therefore approximately, 23-25% of an Israelite’s income was designated to support the religious order, apart from the freewill offerings he would make and the economic impact he would sustain from other stewardship laws for the poor and the land.
When the Son of God became incarnate and came among men, He clarified what should have been known from the beginning. No longer did God legislate every detail of stewardship but taught that He was Creator and Owner of all and therefore that every individual owed Him their entire energy, body and material worth — besides their entire lives — and not only a limited percentage. To one individual He asked to sell all his possessions, give to the poor and follow Him (Mat. 19:21). Of a widow, He commended that she gave a larger percentage to the Temple, even in her poverty, as compared to those who followed the letter of the law (Luke 21:1-4). To another, He reminded that to be a follower of Christ, one might have to give up having a bed or home to lay one’s head (Mat. 8:20). Of another, He praised the wise usage of the multiple talents of coins given him which were invested and given back in due time, with all of their increase, to the Lord (Mat. 25:19-21). When the Church was first started at Pentecost, the members were inspired to consider no property that they had as their own, but they gave all to the disposal of those that had need (Acts. 4:32-35). This form of “communism” was to be later disdained by our private ownership society but was adopted by monasteries and other Christian brotherhoods.
Thus, the Fall of man resulted in a world that went astray, believing that those who gathered the wealth were the real owners of it and were not responsible to God, their community or land (a philosophy which persists even today). In the Old Testament we have a new direction that shows that a significant portion of the increase was to be used in stewardship of the land, the poor and the religious work of God. In Christ we have the full light that God, the Creator of all, who expects us to lay final claim to nothing that we appear to “own” including wealth, land, talents, gifts, time or even our own bodies, but to use it all in wisdom for the glory of God, for the Church of God, for the Creation (land, air and water), and to help the vulnerable and needy. Glory be to God, the Creator and Owner of all, who has given us this stewardship! Truly “Thine own, of Thine own, we offer to Thee, in all and for all.”