Saturday, January 29, 2011

when God gets personal

Abstract thought is indeed quite important - if not necessary - but is nevertheless insufficient as a single mode of understanding God and His word. We often are satisfied to dwell long in abstraction because we feel a sense of comfort (albeit a false one) that can be distant, impersonal. Yet God is Person, and He is not afraid to get personal (after all, He did become God incarnate!). And sometimes painfully so. The truth, while it genuinely sets us free, tends to tear us apart first, for it illumines our body and soul to the sin that enslaves us like light to eyes that have grown accustomed to darkness.

These characteristics are, I believe, demonstrated for us in Luke's record of Jesus preaching in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). Having been handed to Him, Jesus takes the book of Isaiah and boldly declares of the very Scripture He read that it had been "fulfilled" by Him that very day "in [their] hearing" (4:21). Surprisingly, the initial response was positive: "all were speaking well of Him [or, "all bare him witness," as in KJV], and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips" (v. 22).

But then, perhaps because "He Himself knew what was in man" (John 2:25), Jesus gets personal, and His words cut to the heart of His audience, revealing their intent, their motives, their hardness of heart, and their refusal to acknowledge the arrival of the Kingdom. Jesus declares that "no prophet is welcome in his hometown," citing examples from Scripture to illustrate how individual Gentiles had received God's healing through the prophets Elijah and Elisha while "many widows in Israel" and "many lepers in Israel" did not (Luke 4:25, 27). Still, these were, of course, not mere citations and references; Jesus moves past the white-washed outside to make manifest the need for inward transformation wrought by the hand of God. Jesus essentially declared that their national affiliation was no guarantee of divine blessing. Though Jesus was critical, His grace was also demonstrated; He provided a genuine opportunity for those before Him "to acknowledge their failure and need" (Bock 2002:98). And, by doing so, He proves the nature of God's word:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13-14)
So we read:
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29)
At times I think, rather arrogantly, how can they be so stupid? But I forget that it is my heart, too, that is on display here, since I am no better than them. And it is only by God's grace that any of us can respond any better, for we need Him to renew our minds and transform our hearts through the new birth that He alone can enact. The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 is a good example that contrasts with those who rejected Jesus in Nazareth. Jesus indeed gets personal with her, but she responds with humility to His words, as her reaction demonstrates. God even uses her to bring others to Jesus, that they, too, might "believe" that He is "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

The question for us to bring to God is: When God gets personal and reveals our need for Him, how do we respond?

Bock, Darrell L. (2002). Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic and Apollos.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

quote of the week, january 23-29, 2011

It is sometimes easy to get the impression that Christians take a dim view of things - that they are much more in favor of indifference than caring. [...] Far from caring too much for [matter], we are forever busy beating it out of its natural shape into fetishes and status symbols which are more to our liking. Matter itself gets very few chances to speak. And therefore the usual sermons against it are off base. It isn't matter that's opposed to spirit - the two were designed to go together; what is opposed to spirit is perverted matter, uncared-for-matter, unloved and unlovely matter. And matter doesn't get that way on its own steam. It is perverted precisely by being cared for irrelevantly by spirit, by being loved, not for what it is, but for what it does for me and means to me.

True enough, Christians are told to deny themselves material things, but it's very easy to miss the point. The goal of all Christian self-denial is the restoration, not the destruction, of nature; the removal, not of matter, but of perversion. (Capon 1965:110-111)

Capon, Robert Farrar. (1965). Bed and Board: Plain Talk about Marriage. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Friday, January 21, 2011

motherhood: sacrament & icon

Perhaps its due to the particular brand of hermeneutics training I've received (which is rather minimal, to be honest), but one thing I generally disprefer is taking something out of context, recontextualizing it, and appropriating it for personal use. When such activity occurs in writing, it is often the case that something is innocently misunderstood or, rather sinisterly, the author is being blatantly deceptive. So, my apologies at the outset for transgressing my own rules, but this is a noble cause, and I hope I will be found guilty of neither ignorance nor deception. What I would like to do is mildly invoke the concepts of sacrament and icon in order to, as the title indicates, view motherhood as sacrament and icon. Or, to put it another way that is weaker and does not entail strict theological commitments, I would like to contemplate motherhood in a sacramental and iconic manner.

With that in mind, I offer the following from Dr. Alexander Schmemann as a "working definition" of sorts for what I mean by the term "sacrament." We'll start here and see how far it takes us (or what trouble it gets us into):
[A] "sacrament" [...] implies necessarily the idea of transformation, refers to the ultimate event of Christ's death and resurrection, and is always a sacrament of the Kingdom. (Schmemann 1973[1963]: 81)
This may seem simple and straightforward enough, but we have a lot of work to do in a little space, and as of yet no explicit reason to entertain such a venture in the first place. So let me step back a bit, provide some context, and clarify my motive.

Had I been writing in an earlier period, say in the heyday of treatises and discourses with lavish and glorious subtitles, mine would have looked like the following:
Motherhood: Sacrament & Icon
A Short Discourse in Honor of My Loving Wife on the Event of Her Weaning Our Child
Such a title would have at least trended toward the grandeur of the circumstance, although we might not readily consider weaning such. And (to some degree ) understandably so, for it has the characteristics of being quite mundane, commonplace, and uneventful. But, we all too frequently miss the point of liturgy on account of its regularity, and so much the worse for us.

My wife has, and I'm sure always will, exhibited a beautiful mysteriousness. Motherhood, in a sense, compounds the mystery and increases my adoration. For it is utterly clear that, while not demonstrating a distinction in quality, our ministries are different. And even though I can come along side her to encourage her ministry, I will surely never be able to appreciate it fully for lack of direct experience (still, I intend to appreciate every aspect that I can grasp). From the moment our child was conceived, we entered onto an irreversible path, but I as a bystander, while she entered with the entirety of her being as a sacrifice for another. This is not to say that I was aloof or distant, but even the greatest extent to which I can possibly love, care, sympathize, help, provide, encourage, and support cannot truly match my wife giving of her body for the life of our child.

Now, with sacrificial giving at the fore, perhaps the invocation of sacrament and icon is not as ridiculous as it seemed at the outset. But how does motherhood, to return to Schmemann's conceptualization of "sacrament," genuinely imply transformation, and refer to Christ's death and resurrection? Moreover, how is motherhood in any way a sacrament of the Kingdom? Before I begin to touch upon the answers to these questions (for what single blog post could do the justice required?), allow me to introduce two more concepts. First, as the Reverend Peter Stravinskas notes with regard to the Roman Catholic understanding of the sacrament of Holy Orders, "Just as Jesus was the icon (image) of the Father, so is the priest to be an icon of Jesus" (Stravinskas 1997:84). Accordingly, "the priest, [as] an icon of Jesus Christ, sacrifices his own life for the people's sake" (75). Second, sacraments always have some material element about them, which points to something beyond themselves (because the physical aspects are not ends in themselves). Thus, as Abbot Anscar Vonier once wrote (though principally dealing with the Eucharist in his work), "the use of external things, of the sacramental signs, [...] links us up with Christ, historically as well as actually" (Vonier 2003[1925]:28). And with these concepts in place, with timidity we can consider motherhood sacramentally and iconically.

I don't mean to exalt my wife above due measure, but I can't really say that I would have come to the same conclusions about motherhood from experiencing it with just any woman (in actuality, however, I do exalt the God who has worked through her and shown His love in her actions). Much of what I learned from her derives from the stance that, by God's grace, she takes and has taken toward motherhood, being mindful to keep what we Christians sometimes say as an "eternal perspective" continually in focus. In the proper sense, parenthood (as far as the Church is concerned, within the purview of marriage) generally, and motherhood specifically, takes on a much wider meaning and is imbued with sacramental essence when it transcends the local relationship in order to become a manifestation of the divine love. Through the grace of God, motherhood takes on sacramentality because the mother is invited to, repeatedly and continually, die to herself and her own self-sufficiency, so "that it may point beyond itself" (Schmemann 1973[1963]:90) to the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ and the nature of the Kingdom which He inaugurates and fills with His eternal presence. In the Christian context (and, really, in any context) of motherhood, He is to be the essence and the goal of the relationship between mother and child. This transforms the nature of motherhood by making it into the image of God's Self-sacrificial love for humankind. Motherhood is especially fitting in this regard because it involves sacrifice at the level of the entire person. Her body is given for the life of the child (even after delivery, such as nursing every three hours [start to start!] for weeks without good sleep); every thought and action is undertaken with selfless consideration. She, in a sense, lays down her life for the child, serving the child and thus tangibly exhibiting profound characteristics of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:14; 20:16-18; Mark 10:45). Thus, the mother becomes a sort of icon of Jesus Christ, pointing beyond herself to His glory and His divine love.

If you haven't been offended at my use of sacrament and icon up to this point (and it is certainly not my hope to offend, especially since I don't propose this in any rigid theological sense of the terms), perhaps what I have stated sounds a bit child-centric - living for the purpose of the child. But this objection misses the point: sacramental motherhood is not living for the child, but living for God by manifesting His Kingdom and its ethos, with both the glory of God and the good of the child in mind. Again relating it to the Person and work of Jesus Christ, it is my belief that the glory of God was the chief end to which He became incarnate, suffered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, does reign and will reign for ever and ever. However, He never viewed humanity as an obstacle to His "real will." Instead, He chose to have compassion, and was crucified for our sake as well as for the Father's good pleasure. He sought and obtained the glory of God precisely by engaging humanity with the principles of His own divine love, filling earth with heaven. Christ's work had both a divine and a human side to it; His sacrifice was both propitiation and redemption. With this in mind, then, sacramental and iconic motherhood does not enthrone the child, but neither does it view the child as an obstacle to some greater will or purpose. It is instead through the act of loving the child to the glory of God that parenthood, generally, and motherhood, specifically, declares the Kingdom within this aspect of marriage, and the mother becomes the image of Christ's sacrificial love.

Schmemann, Alexander. (1973). For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. (Original work published 1963)

Stravinskas, Peter M. J. (1997). Understanding the Sacraments: A Guide for Prayer and Study. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius.

Vonier, Anscar. (2003). A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist. Bethesda, MD: Zaccheus Press. (Original work published 1925)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

quote of the week, january 16-22, 2011

The first time I heard portions of the hymn below, penned by Anne R. Cousin (1824-1906), was in the popularized version of the song known as "The Sands of Time Are Sinking." A. W. Tozer includes this hymn in his compilation, The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, and in a footnote writes the following:

This much-loved poem was composed by Mrs. Anne Ross Cousin, wife of a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. The poem is as remarkable as it is beautiful in that Mrs. Cousin extracted from the letters of Samuel Rutherford many of his most memorable sayings and wove them into a hymn of nineteen stanzas, maintaining throughout high poetic excellence and great faithfulness to the language and spirit of the letters. (Tozer 1991 [1963]:141, see fn. 2)

Below are all nineteen stanzas as taken from Tozer's devotional volume (sidenote: Indelible Grace Music puts out an excellent version of this [and many other hymns] on their album Pilgrim Days: Indelible Grace II. Also, they provide references to Rutherford's original letters here):

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of Heaven breaks,
The summer morn I've sighed for,
The fair sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory - glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

Oh! well it is for ever,
Oh! well for evermore,
My nest hung in no forest
Of all this death-doom'd shore:
Yea, let the vain world vanish,
As from the ship the strand,
While glory - glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

There the Red Rose of Sharon
Unfolds its heartsome bloom,
And fills the air of Heaven
With ravishing perfume:-
Oh! to behold it blossom,
While by its fragrance fann'd
Where glory - glory dwelleth
In Immannuel's land.

The King there in His beauty,
Without a veil, is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between.
The Lamb, with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory - glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

Oh! Christ He is the Fountain,
The deep sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I've tasted,
More deep I'll drink above:
There, to an ocean fulness,
His mercy doth expand,
And glory - glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

E'en Anwoth was not heaven-
E'en preaching was not Christ;
And in my sea-beat prison
My Lord and I held tryst:
And aye my murkiest storm-cloud
Was by a rainbow spann'd,
Caught from the glory dwelling
In Immanuel's land.

But that He built a heaven
Of His surpassing love,
A little New Jerusalem,
Like to the one above,-
"Lord, take me o'er the water,"
Had been my loud demand,
"Take me to love's own country,
Unto Immanuel's land."

But flowers need need night's cool darkness
The moonlight and the dew;
So Christ, from one who loved it,
His shining oft withdrew;
And then for cause of absence,
My troubled soul I scann'd-
But glory, shadeless, shineth
In Immanuel's land.

The little birds of Anwoth
I used to count them blest,-
Now, beside happier altars
I go to build my nest:
O'er these there broods no silence,
No graves around them stand,
For glory, deathless, dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

Fair Anwoth by the Solway,
To me thou still art dear!
E'en from the verge of Heaven
I drop for thee a tear.
Oh! if one soul from Anwoth
Meet me at God's right hand,
My Heaven will be two Heavens,
In Immanuel's land.

I have wrestled on toward Heaven,
'Gainst storm, and wind, and tide:-
Now, like a weary traveller,
that leaneth on his guide,
Amid the shades of evening,
While sinks life's ling'ring sand,
I hail the glory dawning
From Immanuel's land.

Deep water cross'd life's pathway,
The hedge of thorns was sharp;
Now these all lie behind me-
Oh! for a well-tuned harp!
Oh! to join Hallelujah
With yon triumphant band,
Who sing, where glory dwelleth,
In Immanuel's land.

With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustered with His love.
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that plann'd,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

Soon shall the cup of glory
Wash down earth's bitterest woes,
Soon shall the desert-briar
Break into Eden's rose:
The curse shall change to blessing-
The name on earth that's bann'd,
Be graven on the white stone
In Immanuel's land.

Oh! I am my Beloved's,
And my Beloved is mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His "House of wine."
I stand upon His merit,
I know no other stand,
Not e'en where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.

I shall sleep sound in Jesus,
Fill'd with His likeness rise,
To live and to adore Him,
To see Him with these eyes
'Tween me and resurrection
But Paradise doth stand;
Then-then for glory dwelling
In Immanuel's land!

The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of Grace-
Hot at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel's land.

I have borne scorn and hatred,
I have borne wrong and shame,
Earth's proud ones have reproach'd me,
For Christ's thrice blessed name:-
Where God His seal set fairest
They've stamp'd their foulest brand;
But judgment shines like noonday
In Immanuel's land.

They've summoned me before them,
But there I may not come,-
My Lord says, "Come up hither,"
My Lord says, "Welcome Home!"
My kingly King, at His white throne,
My presence doth command,
Where glory-glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land. (Tozer 1991 [1963]:123-127)

Tozer, A. W. (ed.). (1991). The Christian Book of Mystical Verse. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc. (Original work published 1963)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

absolute fidelity

"[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8, NASB)

For me it is often easy to proceed from Malachi to Matthew and gloss over the roughly 400 years of silence that lies between the turn of a page. But, as we, dwelling between two worlds, eagerly wait for our Lord and Savior to "appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin" (Hebrews 9:28), we find an important analog between our experience and that of Anna and Simeon (Luke 1), who serve as examples of encouragement in times of waiting.

As we are probably all well aware, many of the religious leaders in Israel possessed some cognizance of the manifold prophecies concerning the Messiah (e.g., Matthew 2:4-6) though they were not truly prepared for His coming. Nor did they recognize the fulfillment of prophecies before their very eyes, for their hearts were hardened and they would not, as John the Baptist exhorted them to, "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Still, in contrast to those who refused to believe, there are those who remained faithful, ever longing for God's words to come into fruition. Among the few who, like Abraham, would not "waver in unbelief" "with respect to the promises of God" (Romans 4:20), Simeon and Anna are among the "cloud of witnesses surrounding us" who exhort us to endure by "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith" (Hebrews 12:1-2). Although God had, in a sense, been "silent" for four centuries, yet we read of Simeon that he was "looking for the consolation of Israel," assured that he would see "the Lord's Christ" before his own death (Luke 2:26). Additionally, we read of the constance of Anna, who "never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers" (2:37; related to persistence, recall also Jesus's parable in Luke 18:1-8 as well as the notion of "impudent prayer" [HT: Ray Ortlund] taught by Jesus in Luke 11:5-10). After the birth of Jesus and His presentation in the Temple according to the Law, "[Anna] came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (2:38).

Like Anna and Simeon, we too live in a period of (so-called) "silence" as we feel the tension of that which is "already" and that which is "not yet." And, importantly, like Anna and Simeon, we too are called to fidelity as we wait for our salvation (see 1 Peter 1:5, 9). But, while the faithfulness exhibited by these two is impressive, their examples do not call us to an end in themselves. Rather, they point to an even greater faithfulness, the absolute fidelity of God who never changes and is the very Person who supplies the content for our trust and our hope (Isaiah 26:4; Psalm 39:7; 1 Timothy 1:11). Paul expressed this in his second letter to Timothy, and the Scriptures instruct/train us (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17) in the same manner:

It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13, emphasis added)

Thus, in reality, our fidelity (and Simeon's and Anna's, as well), is predicated upon the eternal, immutable faithfulness of the only True God whose promises our sure. Knowing this, "[l]et us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23, emphasis added). We know not the hour of Christ's coming (Matthew 24:36, 44), but we know that He will come. His faithfulness, demonstrated by His Person and work, supplies our need and strengthens us as we abide in Him (John 15:4-14) until He comes in glory (Matthew 16:27). His faithfulness animates us to labor in prayer (Luke 18:1), to obey in love (John 14:14), "to stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24), to walk in accordance to our "calling" - with humility, gentleness, patience, and unity (Ephesians 4:1-6), and to gather together and "encourag[e] one another" as we "see the day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25). And, when Jesus comes again, as we, by God's immeasurable grace, seek to glorify Him, may He indeed "find faith on the earth" (Luke 18:8).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

quote of the week, january 9-15, 2011

The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God's holiness and God's love. The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite-personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God's character of holiness and love. Not His holiness without His love: that is only harshness. Not His love without His holiness: that is only compromise. Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fails to show the simultaneous balance of the holiness of God and the love of God presents to a watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of the God who exists. (Schaeffer 1982:193-164, as quoted in Piper 2006:164)

Piper, John. (2006). Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Schaeffer, Francis. (1982). The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, Vol. 4.: A Christian View of the Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Friday, January 7, 2011

the nature of questions

It may seem odd to some that, after the Advent season is completed, after Christmas has past, and even after the feast of Theophany (Epiphany), I should post something in regards to the events preceding the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. But, expectations aside, some of my family and I are beginning to read through the New Testament together, and this has provided an opportunity to revisit the accounts of Christ's birth in the Gospels (often read during the Advent/Christmas season). And in doing so, one particular aspect stood out to me in the Lukan narrative that pertains to the nature of questions. So, the following is for the inquisitive among us.

At times I have remained slightly perplexed when considering the annunciations to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-23) and to Mary (1:26-38). That is, superficially, their circumstances reveal particular structures that bear resemblance to one another. In the earliest portions of each case:

* An angel (i.e., Gabriel) appears (vv. 8-11, 26-28)
* Gabriel announces an aspect of God's plan (vv. 13-17, 30-33)
* The recipient asks a question (vv. 18, 34)

Especially given that this latter point is shared among the accounts, it has often been a surprise to me as to why the angel should react so distinctly to Zacharias and Mary. And it is this latter point that, for me, exalts God's grace in my own confusion and lack of understanding, for I am confident that God, who initiates His own Self-revelation, desires to make Himself known through the Person of Jesus Christ. One thing that struck me in contemplating both today's and yesterday's readings pertains to the nature of questions: there is a great difference between questioning God, one the one hand, and asking God questions, on the other.

Turning to the Scriptures, we note that the questions may be similar in form, but they contrast starkly in terms of content and motive. We read the following in the first chapter of Luke:

And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." (Luke 1:18, ESV)

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34)

The former question implies doubt, and is well expressed by the NASB rendition of verse 18, which reads "How will I know this for certain?" That uncertainty indeed underlies this question is evidenced in Scripture itself, for we find Gabriel rebuking Zacharias for his unbelief in the verses that immediately follow (cf. 1:19-20). But what of Mary's question? Why is she not rebuked for unbelief, as well, when she asks "How will this be?" (1:34, ESV)? The difference between her question and Zacharias' is that, in terms of content and motive, Mary's implies trust, belief, and faith. The nature of Mary's question is made clear by Gabriel's response; instead of questioning the validity of the message and what it entailed, she asks to know more about the announcement which she had already considered true and already accepted and believed God would bring it to pass. This point is elucidated further when we consider Mary's remarkably humble response: "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word" (v. 38).

The reason this is important is because it is all too easy to conflate the notions of questioning God and asking God questions into a single, indiscernible category. If we do this, we may, for example, treat questions as synonymous with negative aspects, such as doubt. This, then, can be a hindrance to our relationship with God, which is in part characterized by our "asking" (see, for example, Matthew 7:11; 18:19; 21:22; Luke 9:45; 11:9, 13; John 16:24; Ephesians 3:20; Philippians 4:6; James 1:5-6; 1 John 5:14-15) of Him and, thus, relying upon His sovereignty and benevolence. When we, by God's grace, discern between types of questions based upon motive, God reveals through His word that He desires us to relate to Him through asking, like Abraham who inquired "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Genesis 18:25, NASB). But we must pray that God purifies our intent, so that our questions do not mirror that of Judas, who asked the Lord, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" (John 12:5; see also verse 6 in conjunction with James 4:3).

Notwithstanding, we do well to bear in mind that with God there is boundless grace. Though Zacharias did not fully believe and demonstrated a show-me-a-sign mentality (see Matthew 16:1-4), still God acted for His own glory and for the good of Zacharias, in a sense actually answering the very question he was rebuked for - Zacharias would eventually "know for certain" because he was made mute until Gabriel's words were fulfilled. Thus, God was working in Zacharias, transforming his heart and mind, so that when the words were fulfilled, "at once [Zacharias'] mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God" (Luke 1:64).

May God give us His grace, to ask of Him, as did Mary, with purity of heart, asking in faith. And may He also make known to us His endless love and grace when we, like Zacharias, ask out of unbelief.