Daily Devotional for the Week of February 5
Luke 18:10-14 – the publican and the pharisee
The practices of this Pharisee are worthy examples to follow. His good deeds (fasting and giving tithes) are the primary weapons against the passions of lust and greed (adultery and extortion). However, without a humble and repentant heart, these outward practices are worthless and lead only to pride and judgment of others. Note that he prays with himself, for God is absent where there is boasting. The tax collector shows by his posture an awareness of the state of his soul, standing far from the altar of sacrifice with eyes cast downward. His prayer, God, be merciful to me a sinner, is the foundation of the Jesus Prayer, as is the refrain “Lord have mercy” that permeates Orthodox worship and personal prayer. Justified means forgiven and set right with God, for inward humility is blessed while pride in outward deeds is condemned.
After the devil’s temptations, the Lord Jesus Christ headed anew towards Jordan to John. In the meantime, on the eve of His return, John gave a new triumphant testimony of Him before the Pharisees — but this time, not as about the coming but the arrived Messiah. Only one Evangelist — John, narrates about this event. The Jews sent to John from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him, who he is — maybe Christ? Because according to their understanding, only Christ-Messiah could baptize. “He (John) confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). To the question who he was, perhaps a prophet, he calls himself: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23), and emphasizes, that his baptism with water — like his entire service — is only preparatory, and in order to put aside the further questions, he concludes his answer with a triumphant declaration: “There stands One among you Whom you do not know. It is He Who, coming after me, is preferred before me” (John 1:26-27). He emerges for His service after me, but has eternal existence and Divine worthiness, He is “Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” (John 1:27). This testimony was given in Bethabara — where the masses of people used to flock to John. “The next day,” i.e. the next time, after the 40-day fast and the devil’s temptations, Jesus again comes to John at Jordan. Upon seeing Him, John announces to everyone: “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!”
After hearing this testimony on Jesus’s Divinity, this time both of John’s disciples accompanied Him to where He lived, and stayed with Him from the 9th hour (or, in our terms since 4 o’clock in the afternoon) till late evening, listening to His speech, which increasingly was instilling in them the unshakeable belief that He is the Messiah. One of the disciples was Andrew, and the other — Evangelist John himself, who never mentioned himself in the narration about those events, in which he personally participated. Returning home after conversing with the Lord, Andrew was the first to announce that he and John had found the Messiah; he informs his brother Simon: “We have found the Messiah (which is translated, the Christ)”. Thus, Andrew was not only the First-Called disciple of Christ, how they are used to call him, but he was also the first of the Apostles to preach about Him and to convert and bring the future leader of the Apostles. When Andrew brought his brother to Christ, the Lord, looking at him with a trying glance, called him Cephas, meaning “a rock,” i.e. Petros in Greek, or — Peter.
The following day, after Andrew and John’s visit, Jesus wished to go to Galilee and summoned Philip to follow Him. Philip, locating his friend Nathanael, tried to invite him as well, saying: “We have found Him of Whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”. However, Nathanael objected: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Apparently, Nathanael shared the common with many Jews prejudice that Christ, as a King with earthly greatness, will come and appear in glory among the higher echelons of Jewish society; apart from this, at that time, Galilee was held in bad repute among the Jews, and Nazareth, this small town that is not mentioned anywhere in the holy writings of the Old Testament, seemed in no way to be the birthplace of the Messiah, Who had been promised by the Prophets. Nevertheless, Philip did not see the need to refute his friend’s prejudice and offered him to be convinced in the genuineness of his words, saying: “Come and see”. Being a forthright and sincere person, and wishing to investigate the veracity of his friend’s words, Nathanael went to Christ. The Lord testified of the simplicity and artlessness of his soul, and declared: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”
Nathanael expressed surprise, where the Lord knew him from, seeing him for the first time. So, to totally disperse Nathanael’s doubts and draw him towards Himself, Christ reveals His Divine omniscience by hinting at a private circumstance in Nathanael’s life, the meaning of which could only be known to no one but Nathanael: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”. Whatever Nathanael was doing under the fig tree is unknown to us, but as we can see, there is a hidden mystery in this event, about which besides Nathanael could know only God. This revelation startled Nathanael so much that all his doubts about Jesus dispersed in a moment: he realized that standing before him was not an ordinary human, but the One gifted with the Divine omniscience, and he instantly believed in Jesus as in the Divine Messenger-Messiah, expressing this with the words filled with fervent faith: “You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel”. There is a premise that Nathanael was in the habit of performing his established prayer rites under the fig tree and, apparently, at that particular time, he probably experienced the peculiar anguish during the prayer, which clearly lodged itself in his memory and about which none of the people knew about. This is most likely why the Lord’s words aroused such fervent faith in Him as in the Son of God, to Whom the states of the human soul are opened.
To Nathanael’s exclamation, the Lord addresses not only to him alone, but to all His followers, predicting: “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”. With these words the Lord is saying that His disciples will see His glory with their spiritual eyes, that the ancient prophesy of heaven connection with earth by a mysterious ladder, which the Old Testament Patriarch Jacob foresaw, is fulfilled (Gen. 28:11-17), through the incarnation of the Son of God, Who had now become “Son of Man”. The Lord often calls Himself with this name; there are 80 cases of this in the Gospel. Through this, Christ positively and irrefutably confirms His human nature, and also underlines that He is the Human in the highest meaning of the word: the ideal, universal and absolute Person, the Second Adam, the primal father of the new mankind, regenerated through His sufferings on the cross. This way, the similar name comes in no way to denigrate Christ, but expresses His superiority above the general level, indicating in Him the accomplished ideal of human nature, i.e. of such a man, which is necessary for Him to be in accordance with the thought of His Maker and His Creator — God.
Cana was a small town, located in 2-3 hours of walk towards the north of Nazareth and was called Galilean, unlike the other one — situated close to the city of Tyre. Nathaniel was a native of Galilean Cana.
By the custom of hospitality, Jesus was invited there as an ordinary person, like an acquaintance. His Mother was there already, having presumably arrived there earlier. The family that was celebrating the wedding was not rich, that was why, during the celebrations, they found out the lack of wine. The Ever-Holy Virgin took an active part in this circumstance, which threatened to spoil the innocent delight of the family’s jubilation. Her soul, filled with grace, manifested the first example of Her consideration and intercession for people before Her Divine Son. “They have no wine,” — She says to Her Son, undoubtedly counting on His miraculous help to these poor people. “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?” In the word “woman” one should not see even a shade of disrespect — this form of addressing was usual in the East. During the hardest moments of His sufferings on the cross, the Lord likewise addresses His Mother, entrusting the care of Her to His beloved Disciple (John 19:26). “My hour has not yet come” — says the Lord. More likely, Christ meant, that not all the wine that had been saved for the wedding, ran out. In any case, from the further words of His Mother one can see that She did not interpret His response as a refusal. “Whatever He says to you, do it” — She says to the servants.