The Gospel in context, always!

Reading the scripture with purpose.

The Wordly NEVER understands Holy Things!

Luke 9:7-11. 21st Tuesday of Luke and/or the 4th Tuesday of Luke


Today’s gospel, like most Gospel selections, must be read in context in order to be understood.


Luke 9:7-11 7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; 8 And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. 9 And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him. 10 And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.


When we hear this selection in church, we are not reading the surrounding verses which often help elucidate the passage, but if we are students of the scripture, we will remember the context. We should know the scripture better than any book. It should be intimately familiar to us.

There is only one way for that to happen! We must read the scripture often, with purpose!

Actually, there are two more ways to make this happen. The Scripture is particularly “understandable” when it is read in the services (all of them, and not just liturgy). I have experienced this countless times myself. Somehow, the Holy Spirit especially enlightens us concerning the Holy Scriptures when we are standing in prayer in the temple.

These may be particular passages which are read verbatim, or paraphrases and allusions to scriptures passages and themes which abound in our services. If we want to truly understand the Holy Scriptures, we must hear them used in worship, and participate in this worship with inner effort. When we are worshipping with the Scriptures, we are training ourselves how to think concerning them. This activity is more profitable to our souls than the reading of a thousand biblical commentaries by the Fathers; without it we will never understand those commentaries!

Of course, enlightenment is not possible in anything pertaining to God without our personal effort. This is the “third way” to understand the scriptures.  

What does reading the scripture “with purpose” entail? We are reading the word of God, and at that moment, God is speaking directly to us. There is something that we are to learn, at the very moment we are reading (or listening). What is it? We must be a seeker after “goodly pearls”[1] when we read or hear the scriptures. There is something precious that God wishes to communicate with us. Being aware of this, and eager is what “reading (listening/praying) with purpose” entails.


In this passage, Herod epitomizes the typical person in the world, which in another place, the scripture calls the “wayside” or sometimes, the “shallow, rocky ground”[2]. He is a little bit interested in spiritual things, much as he might be interested in the latest news at 10 or what his favorite sports team did the previous night, but because he is not really seriously trying to amend his life, he does not understand these things. Herod had spoken with John many times – the scripture says he “heard him gladly”[3], and yet he still is confused about who Jesus is. This is because understanding about holy things only comes to those “who have ears to hear”.

Most of the world is like this. Many who are Orthodox are like this! We cannot understand holy things unless we strive to live with holiness. This is a lesson we had better learn.

The subsequent verses from the Evangelist Luke (and also John) help elucidate this passage and provide an important lesson.


Immediately after his passage is the “Feeding of the Five Thousand”. This miracle is recounted in all the Gospels, but is particularly striking in the Gospel of John, where it precedes Jesus’ teaching: “… I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” [4], and “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  (55)  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  (56)  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. [5]


Many people, after they heard Jesus teaching concerning His body and blood, the Holy Eucharist, left Him and never came back. They were like Herod – worldly and fleshly and not attuned to spiritual things.


The Christian should tremble when he reads: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him”[6], because the same passions that operated in these people’s souls and rendered them incapable of understanding holy things operate in us to a greater or lesser degree.


May reading about Herod and the Lord’s former disciples who left him, and the people of the Gergesenes, and all the rest who had God in their midst and did not understand Him or follow Him humble us so that we pursue the way of humility and do not repeat their errors.


God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud[7]. If we are proud, there is nothing that protects us from becoming just like Herod. May God preserve us from this fate!


After the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Luke relates the Lord asking the disciples the question that Herod had in today’s selection:


“And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?  (19)  They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again.  (20)  He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:18-20)


Herod should have known this. The reason he did not know it is warning to us.


“Having become God-bearing heralds, the Magi returned to Babylon, having fulfilled Thy prophecy; and having preached Thee to all as the Christ, they left Herod as a babbler who knew not how to sing: Alleluia!”

(Akathist to the Theotokos, Kontakion 6)


Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Matthew 13:45-46  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:  (46)  Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

[2] The parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:3-9, and its explanation Matthew 13:18-23 (Also in Mark and Luke)

[3] Mark 6:20  “For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.”

[4] John 6:35  “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

[5] John 6:54-56 

[6] John 6:66 

[7] 1Peter 5:5  “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”



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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas