Saturday, August 20, 2016

Change of domain

I am nearing 500 posts on this blog, but things are getting boring here. I want to change it up. So I am moving to this new domain: fides quarens intellectum. I will leave this blog up for now, in case someone wants to refer back to it (I doubt this will happen, though).

Recognizing Christ in the Gospel according to John

Sometimes people will appeal to the Gospel according to John in defense of Reformed understandings of the doctrines of predestination and election. When Jesus says, for example, that the Pharisees do not believe in him because they are not his sheep (John 10), these persons suppose that there is a fundamental distinction between classes of persons: there are Jesus' sheep, who will believe in him and who are chosen for salvation; and there are those who are not his sheep, who neither can believe nor will ever believe in him. And the distinction between sheep and non-sheep, furthermore, is taken to be established antecedently by the inscrutable choice of God: he alone has decided who is going to be a sheep and who will not.

This is the wrong way to read things, however, because there also exists in the Gospel according to John a recognition that whether a person recognizes Christ for who he is depends in part on the quality of life he lived prior to the advent of Christ. Those who sought after God with a pure heart, who were eager to know him, and who dedicated themselves to virtue and righteousness in obedience to his commandments -- these persons will recognize Christ for the Son of God, and will cling to him happily. On the other hand, sinners whose lives are characterized by distrust of God and disobedience to his commandments will reject Christ, because he condemns them. This is precisely what the following passage teaches in John 3:
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God (vv. 19-21).
Notice what the Gospel says: those who do what is true come to the light, which is clearly Christ. If a person lives in the truth, then she will come to Christ; she will see in Christ that truth which she has been seeking after and obeying without realizing it. In this way, there is an inevitably synergistic and moral element to the process of salvation, not to mention the epistemological aspect of what it takes to recognize Christ as the Son of God. Such a recognition is something accomplished by God's help, but also through the cooperation and individual contribution of the person who comes to believe.

This does not mean that sinners cannot come to faith in Christ, which is self-evidently absurd. Rather, we cannot interpret "doing what is true" too strictly. If a person recognizes her sinfulness and comes to cooperate with that inner prompting which impels her in the direction of Christ, then she does what is true. Repenting of our sins and recognizing our guilt and spiritual poverty before God is doing what is true, as much as living a life of virtue and righteousness. What I reject, however, is a kind of determinism and monergism in the process of salvation which is inevitably accompanied by some Calvinist-Augustinian understanding of predestination and election. This takes salvation and personal destiny entirely outside of the realm of human freedom, except insofar as our damnation is our own fault -- and even there, we may have some doubts...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Teach me your ways

Ps 25:4 reads as follows:
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
What is significant in these words is the passive attitude towards knowledge assumed by the psalmist. He must be made to know by God; the right way has to be taught to him, rather than discovered by him through his own strength. We might see here traces of that medieval epistemologies of illumination, which required divine illumination as a precondition of knowledge. There is something to this way of thinking, I reckon. Oftentimes we experience a sudden awareness or "illumination" with respect to something; it just "dawns on us" that something is true, and we find ourselves utterly passive in this whole experience. Something just "clicks." This may serve as a phenomenological corroboration of the illuminationist epistemological proposal.

It is important to note the moral quality of our psalmist, as well. He suffers no illusions about his own sinfulness: For your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great (v. 11). Therefore this appeal for divine illumination and understanding is coming from someone who is already a sinner and knows it. In light of this, what exactly is he asking?

I think there are different ways in which a person can "know" something. There is a kind of "knowledge" which is really just intellectual awareness of a proposition and various reasons in favor of it, but an awareness unaccompanied by any personal commitment to that proposition or any "sense" or "feel" that it is really true. This is what I think happens when people "knowingly" do what is wrong. They know various reasons why a certain thing might be wrong, but they do not feel deeply in their hearts that it is wrong; their convictions are otherwise. But there is also a kind of knowledge, more properly so-called, which carries with it a deep sense and conviction that this is true. This is a knowledge that grips you; this is a knowledge to which you feel impelled to commit yourself, from which you cannot turn away with indifference. This kind of knowledge is the sort that leads you to action, and which can reform your life.

I think this is what the psalmist is asking for. He doesn't just want to be told that murder is wrong; everyone knows that. He doesn't need to be taught that. Rather, he wants to be gripped by that sense and that vision of the world according to which God's laws are the proper way for a human life to be lived. He wants to see things clearly just as God sees them, and to be impelled by this clear vision to live in keeping with the Law. He wants really to know the ways of the Lord.

That is why his guilt is so great: because he did not see things aright, and out of his ignorance towards the truth, he lived in sin. And recognizing his own tendencies and inability in this respect, he pleads with God to illumine his mind and to fix the eyesight of his intellect. And that is what we ought to pray, as well, if we find ourselves utterly unmotivated and even ill-disposed to do what God requires of us. If loving our neighbors and our enemies seems too much for us, if we can't even sympathize with the sentiment expressed in the commands, then we ought to pray that God make his ways known to us.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Preaching to yourself

I have been reading through Origen's Homilies on Genesis lately, and I have been very impressed with him. In many ways, we are kindred spirits; our styles and outlooks are very similar. His sermon is typically heavily moralist, the focus of which is always moral and hortatory: the homily functions as a call for Christians to take more seriously the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14), as Paul refers to it. This is generally my own style, as well.

This sort of preaching is morally demanding, however, and it can make preaching in general not to be a particularly appealing activity. The reason why is obvious: the preacher finds himself deeply challenged and convicted by the very same words he is relating to others. I remember a homiletics class I took at Fuller, in which some preachers and pastors from local churches were invited to speak with the class and answer questions one night. I posed the following provocative question: how can you preach, knowing that you do not fulfill the same things you tell your audience? The response from the preachers was that their own sermons are not moralistic or hortatory in that sense. (I now think I should have asked this follow-up question: given that your sermon is not typically hortatory or moralist, what is the average moral and spiritual condition or state of the typical member of your church?) I can't relate with that, however.

Consider this passage from a homily on Genesis in which Origen allegorically interprets the difference between Pharaoh's priests and the priests of the Lord:
Do you wish to know the difference between the priests of God and the priests of Pharaoh? Pharaoh gives earth to his priests; the Lord, however, does not give earth to his priests, but he tells them: I am your portion [cf. Num 18:20]. Observe, those of you who know these things, all the priests of the Lord, and see what is the difference between the priests: those whose portion is in earth and dedicate their time to cultivating the earth and to earthly pastimes -- don't they seem sooner to be the priests of Pharaoh than of the Lord? For Pharaoh wants his priests to own land and to work the fields and not to cultivate their souls, to be worried about furrows and not about the Law. Let us hear rather what Christ, our Lord, commands his priests: So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions [Luke 14:33].
I am starting to tremble saying these things. For, before all, I, even I am my own accuser. I utter my own condemnation. Christ denies as being his disciple the one who saw that he owns something and does not renounce all his possessions. What are we to do? How do we read these things, how do we explain them to the people, we who not only have not renounced our own possessions, but we wish even to possess those which we did not have prior to coming to Christ? Can we hide them, can we fail to show the things which have been written, so long as our conscience testifies to our falsehood? I don't want to make myself guilty of a double crime. I testify, and I testify before the whole crowd which listens to me: these have been written, even if I am aware that I haven't fulfilled them until now (Hom. in Gen. XVI, §5).
Origen realizes that the scriptural text he has cited demands something of him that he has not fulfilled. But he considers it more important to speak what has been written, than to keep quiet and to commit the double crime. What is the double crime, except this -- to fail to speak the truth to a people living in sin, himself included, and those to ensure that they will not change their ways? Not only do you realize your own weakness and sinfulness, but through your silence, you make sure that others will remain in their sins too. That is the double crime, and it is a crime to be avoided at any cost.

Sometimes you have to preach that message which condemns you as much as anyone else. I find that just about every message is like this. But if we don't hear the condemning word, if we are not told that things are not alright with us, it will not do us any good to go on living in our ignorance of the truth and in sin. Christ came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37), and this truth is oftentimes against us at least in part. We don't do ourselves favors by running away from it or avoiding it. Certainly none of the apostles left us this example, since they regularly offer exhortations and denunciations of the darkness in their readers and listeners.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The fate of the cowardly

Rev 21:8 reads as follows:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
It is interesting to that cowards are numbered among those who are condemned to the second death. I can understand why sinners of various different sorts might be excluded from salvation -- murderers, rapists, and the such -- but what is the problem for cowards? Why were they excluded? What exactly is the nature of the cowardice which excludes a person from salvation?

It may be that the cowardly who are here being punished are those who denied Christ under the threat of death or persecution. Fear of pain and suffering led them to make a shameful renunciation of their faith. As Christ himself says, Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:26).

There is another sort of fear or cowardice which might lead a person to damnation, too. Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogue, writes about persons who turn from sin out of fear of damnation and the punishments of hell. These persons don't repent because they feel contrite for having offended God; they neither love God nor their neighbors, but merely abstain from grave sins for the sake of avoiding the torments and an unfavorable judgment. Their servile fear, as Catherine calls it, is insufficient to save them, however, because the Law is summed up in two commandments: to love God with everything we have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. They haven't even begun to fulfill the Law, and they deceive themselves if they think that they can avoid hell merely by abstaining from sin.

These persons are cowardly, because the only motivation for their activity was fear of punishment. It is a cruel irony, then, that the only proper reward for their unrighteousness is that they should suffer exactly that which they feared so gravely, All that fear helped them naught, because fear is not properly a cause of righteousness. It is true, as the scriptures say, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10), but it must be emphasized that it is the beginning of wisdom. It is insufficient to make a person wise; it is insufficient to win a person a place among those wise who shall shine like the brightness of the sky (Dan 12:3) at the resurrection.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The temple of his body

Consider the following incident in the Gospel according to John: 
Making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me" [Ps 69:9]. The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (John 2:15-22).

I am fascinated by Jesus' consciousness of his own divinity. He proposes his body as the temple of God, and furthermore speaks of himself as raising up his body from the dead. Jesus is not presented as one who had no knowledge of his own divinity, nor of one who depended utterly on God the Father without any sense of his own authority or initiative. Rather, in the scriptural narrative there are moments such as these in which his sense of his own status stands out clearly. These occur in the other gospels too, of course, but at this moment and in this gospel it is particularly pronounced.

Jesus spoke about raising up his own body from the dead. He is the subject of that proposition: in three days I will raise it up. At the same time, John has no problem speaking about Jesus being raised from the dead, This tells me that we ought not read too much into the grammar of some scriptural assertions regarding the causality of Jesus' resurrection, because both formulas appear. On the one hand, Jesus was raised from the dead: this communicates a posture of passivity, receptivity, etc. On the other hand, Jesus also says that he himself will raise up his body from the dead. As he elsewhere says, No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again (John 10:18). In this sense, Jesus's resurrection is an active operation of his own power as God, since clearly only God has the power to raise up a dead body to life.

Jesus also considers his body to be a temple, a house in which the presence of God is especially present. He doesn't consider himself to be a temple, as if God were something outside of himself altogether but in some strange way present within him. On the contrary, he says that his body is the temple, signifying his human nature as a whole. Since Jesus clearly identifies himself with the divine nature through the assertion of his power to raise up his body from the dead, he does not view himself as a merely human receptacle for the divine presence. Rather, I and the Father are one (John 10:30). Here we see a scriptural basis for Athanasius' language of the Logos of God using his body as an instrument by which he accomplished salvation: the same instrumentality is implicit in Jesus' own language about his body as a temple which he inhabits.

There is also something interesting to note in the citation of Ps 69. John says that the disciples remembered that particular passage of scripture, and after the resurrection of Jesus, they believed it. Did they not believe in the scripture prior to that? On the other hand, interpreted merely as the sentiment of the human author of that psalm from long ago, there is not really anything to believe in. The psalmist is telling us what he will feel: zeal for the house of the Lord. Very well! For the disciples to believe that scripture, they have to had understood something more behind it than merely the autobiographical predictions of the author. On the contrary, behind the voice of the author, they discerned the voice of the preexisting Word of God: they sensed in the words of the psalm the voice of Christ, who was predicting this tumultuous experience in the Temple even long ago, before having taken a body. The apostles learned in this way to read scripture differently, certainly very differently from the modernist, socio-grammatical hermeneutic of our times. Behind the author of the scripture and his particular context is the Logos, who is speaking secretly, mysteriously about his imminent incarnation and salvific work. In this particular, embodied text is an eternal voice which speaks out from before time.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The wedding at Cana

In the second chapter of the Gospel according to John, we find the story about Jesus and his mother and disciples at the wedding in Cana. I want to consider this passage roughly verse-by-verse, and see what instruction I can find in this episode.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding (John 2:1-2).
Jesus and his disciples, along with his mother, were invited to be at this wedding. He was a respected rabbi who had amassed a small group of followers, and these persons who were getting married wanted to include the teacher of the Law and those who were religious at this event. They wanted their wedding to include the people of God and, in this way, God himself; they did not want to embark on such an important journey apart from the special presence and blessing of God, nor without his people. In the same way, I think, it is right for us to "invite" Jesus and his disciples to participate in our important endeavors as well, perhaps especially those which have to do with the family.

What does it mean to invite Jesus to participate in my endeavors? More than that, what can it mean to invite his disciples and his mother, as well? There are various ways to answer these questions, I think. Consider the following passage from James:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil (Jas 4:13-16).
The first way we can invite Jesus to participate in our endeavors is this: by recognizing that we can only fulfill our plans if it is his will. Apart from him we can do nothing, of course, and as the Proverb says: In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps (Prov 16:9). We might have all sorts of plans, but they may not be fulfilled apart from the cooperation and grace of God. For this reason, we ought to see if God wants us to do what we are planning to do; and if we think so, we ought to invite him to help us bring it to completion.

But there is another way of inviting Jesus to participate in our endeavors, and that is by heeding his commandments in everything we do. By keeping his commandments and in this way showing our love for him, we bring him near to us; we carry him about with us wherever we might go; we are working to bring the fulfillment of our prayer -- thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven -- that much closer. And when we learn from the teaching and the example of his disciples, all the holy apostles and those who have ever loved Jesus Christ and learned from him, and from his mother who especially in this episode will give us an example of faith -- when we do all this, then especially we will have invited them to come with us, as well. All the family of God will be participants in our endeavors if we learn from them and follow their example and heed their words.
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine” (v. 3).
In most Protestant churches, there is very little talk of Mary except at Christmas time. They do not pray to her, they do not venerate her, they do not invoke her help in anything; they mention her when the most relevant texts are the conception and birth narratives, and that's that. But I think we have much more to learn from Mary, and she ought to be considered more often than she actually is among many Protestant churches. In this text especially, she gives us an important example of faithfulness to Jesus from which we can all learn.

This is the first aspect of her example: when others are in trouble, she notices and turns to Jesus for help. She is not indifferent to the problems which others face, but she takes notice of them in her compassion. Not everyone is like this: some persons are too concerned with their own lives and their own problems to be moved by the travails of their neighbors. But this speaks to a lack of love for neighbor, which is the greatest commandment and the fulfillment of the Law. The Mother of God notices that they had run out of wine -- understand this apparently, relatively trivial problem as representing the disasters your neighbors may run into, whether greater or smaller -- and her sympathy and compassion moves her to action.

What is her action, exactly? She goes to her son, Jesus, and informs him of the problem. Implicit in this act is an open and trusting faith in the ability of Jesus to solve all these problems. Mary trusts in God, and she trusts in the Son which God had miraculously given her. Her compassion and her faith work hand in hand, so that at the sight of suffering in the world she is not hopeless, nor does she simply cross her arms and refuse to help on the grounds that it is pointless. So long as we can pray to Jesus, it is never pointless, because he is all-powerful and he can help us in our troubles, whether great or small.
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come” (v. 4).
Indeed, the hour of Jesus has not yet come. It is not yet the time in which his kingdom is fully established, as is evidenced by the preponderance of evil and sin in every direction. For a while we are still taught to pray thy kingdom come, thy will be done, because the kingdom is not yet here. So long as Jesus' hour has not yet come, weddings will run out of wine; i.e., times of celebration and joy which we have through the grace of God will be cut short by suffering and lack, by unexpected twists and turns of events.

In general, we ought not to be exaggeratedly optimistic. It is true that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ, and that he will be with us to the end of the age. But may the Lord forbid us from ever thinking on this basis that we ought not meet with suffering for the reason that all power has been given to him. The power of Christ did not keep the apostles and all the martyrs and confessors throughout the history of the Church from suffering. Neither will it keep me from suffering unless he wills it; and in any case, We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

I ought to know, too, that I am part of the reason why his hour has not yet come. When I pray that his kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, but I refuse to obey his commandments, I am impeding his kingdom entirely on my own. When I make the choice to live in sin apart from Christ, I have no need to blame the devil or society or anyone else for any of my sins and for any of the evils that happen to me. I am crucifying myself by my own selfish desire, as Catherine of Siena says in the Dialogue of sinners: I have only myself to blame. And for that reason, the hour of Christ in which he will drink again from the fruit of the vine in the Kingdom of his Father (Mt 26:29) is delayed because of me and my sin. God help me!
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5).
Here is the second aspect of the example of Mary: not only is she compassionate and concerned for the troubles of others, and not only does she bring prayers to Jesus for the sake of others, but she also teaches us to do whatever he tells us. This is the perfect faith of the Mother of God, which ought to be ours as well: it is such a faith in the goodness and power of Jesus that she both prays to him as well as teaches others to do whatever he asks. It is isn't easy to to adopt an attitude of unconditional obedience to anyone. It isn't natural; our inclination is rather to obey others when it is easy and when it is convenient and advantageous for us. But Mary teaches us to be faithful to Jesus in absolutely everything.

The Virgin who said, May your word to me be fulfilled (Luke 1:38), teaches us now to be faithful to Jesus in everything. May his word to us be fulfilled! If he teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves, may this word be fulfilled; if he teaches us to love God with everything that we have within us, may this word be fulfilled; if he teaches us to give to others without expecting any sort of repayment, and to turn the other cheek to those who have struck us, may this word be fulfilled. In everything, let us learn to fulfill the word of Jesus. This is what Mary and all the saints throughout the history of the Church teach us, all those who have done exactly this during their own lifetimes and are now enjoying the rewards of their faithfulness.

We have to adopt a certain attitude of openness and faithfulness towards God in order to think like this. Like Mary, I have to say, May your word to me be fulfilled. This means that I trust God in absolutely everything, even if by my own judgment, that which God tells me to do seems strange and doubtful, or excessive, or impossible. Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote:
Three things make the soul worthy of this way so that it recognizes it and walks in it. Firstly, that it wills to come to God, renouncing all self-will, joyfully welcoming God's grace and willingly accepting all its demands against human desires. The second thing which keeps the soul in the way is that all things are welcome to it save sin alone. The third thing makes the creature perfect in the way, namely, that it does all things to the glory of God, so that even its smallest desire will be as highly prized by God as if it were in the highest state of contemplation possible to humanity (The Flowing Light of the Godhead, 27)
This is the kind of faithfulness and openness which Mary had, to which she also calls us: to be open and welcoming to absolutely everything except sin. Sin has no place in our lives; but suffering or strange things or whatever else God might bring us in his providence are welcome, because we trust him and know that he is good and seeks our salvation in everything.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet” (vv. 7-8).
From this I infer the following lesson: in light of God's omnipotence, there is theophanic potential in everything around us. Who would have looked at jars full of water and thought that this could be the solution to the wine problem? Yet God can turn water into wine, he can make water flow out of desert rocks, and he can make bread fall from heaven to satisfy hungry masses if need be.

Look around, left and right, at the people who are seated next to you; consider all the people with whom you have to do throughout the course of the day. In those people, there exists a potential for something miraculous and amazing, a potential for God to make his presence felt in the world in a mode apart. You don't see anything, but if God wants, out of the dry land of your spiritually arid environment, he can make founts of water appear. You don't notice anything but plain water, but if God wants, and if we come to him with faith in prayer, he can turn the water into wine and rejuvenate us.

And there is potential for all this in you, too, because you have also been made in the image and likeness of God. You were created to be a living representation of God, a living presence of God as a bearer of his image. If you will purify yourself of everything that is foreign to this image, if you will cast out everything that obscures this image and impedes its full glory, then you will be an instrument for honorable use in the house of God (2 Tim 2:21). Consider here the words of Origen:
When, in the beginning, God created man, He created him according to His image and likeness, and he placed this image not outside of him, but within him. It was not possible for it to be seen in you as long as your house was unkempt, full of uncleanliness and grime. The fount of knowledge had been placed in you, but it could not give water, because the Philistines had filled it with earth and had drawn in you an earthly image. In the past you bore the earthly image; now, however, after hearing these words, being cleansed by the Word of God of all earthly heaviness and oppression, make the heavenly image shine out of you!
This is the image about which the Father said unto the Son: Let Us make men according to Our image and likeness [Gen 1:26]. The Son of God is the artist of this image. And because the artist is so important and so great, His image can be darkened, through apathy, but it cannot be destroyed through evil. For God's image always remains within you, even if you should paint an earthly image over it.
You paint on this canvas yourself: when pleasure has darkened you, you have put an earthly tone. If avarice burns in you, you have added another. When rage makes you cruel, you add yet another color. The blackness of pride adds yet another color, and still another color is added by the darkness of faithlessness. And in this way, through every sort of evil, just as if various colors had been mixed, you yourself paint this earthly image, which God did not place within you (Origen, Hom. in Gen. XIII, §4).
The potential to be a living representation and presence of God on earth is within me, if I will only stop painting the monstrous image of Satan over the image of God which was intended, and if through God's help I come to resemble Christ instead.
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (vv. 8-10).
When God works, we are always surprised at his generosity. God is generous because he alone is totally self-sufficient. When you can create the entire universe merely through the power of your word, without recourse to any preexisting materials which might limit your activity, you are able to be generous beyond the expectations of others. And so Jesus produces better wine now, out of water, than was previously available at the wedding.

In the same way, if we will follow the advice of Mary and do whatever Christ tells us, if we will invite Jesus and all his disciples into our lives to learn from them and to keep their salutary teaching, then we too will find ourselves surprised at the words of Christ on the day of judgment, when he tells us: Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Mt 25:34-6).  We will be surprised, because we will have thought ourselves unworthy servants who had only done what we ought to have done anyway. But Christ rewards us beyond our expectations or wildest dreams for doing what was a necessity, as Mark the Ascetic wrote:
The Lord, wishing to show that every commandment is a duty, while, on the other hand, that adoption is given to men as a gift for the sake of His blood, says: "When you will have done everything commanded you, you say: 'We are worthless slaves and we have done just what we ought to have done.'" [Luke 17:10] Therefore the Kingdom of heaven is not a payment for deeds, but the grace of the Master, prepared for faithful servants (On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works: 226 Texts, 2)
 As Paul says: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal 6:9-10). In this way, we will be surprised by the generosity of Christ when he welcomes us into his kingdom. Better this surprise than the surprise of exclusion, expecting to receive more than we deserved because we did not know ourselves and our true state.