The Epiphany (2023)

This was written for the January 5, 2023, stated conclave of Worth Commandery № 19, K∴T∴, but not delivered due to illness.

Sir Knights,

Tomorrow, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. This is a time when we remember the wise men who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn King Jesus. As we read in Matthew 2:1-12, these wise men came from the East, following a star that led them to Bethlehem. There, they found the child Jesus with his mother Mary.

But what can we learn from these wise men, and how can their journey speak to us today? Isaiah 60:1-6 speaks of a time when the light of the Lord will rise upon his people. The nations will come to them, bringing gifts of gold and frankincense. This passage foreshadows the arrival of the wise men, who brought these gifts to the newborn King.

But the wise men brought more than just physical gifts. They brought a message of good news, the praises of the Lord. They recognized that Jesus was not just a human child, but the savior of the world. They knew He would be the one who would bring light to the nations, and bring salvation to all who believe in Him.

Psalm 72 makes a prophecy of a righteous king who brings peace and prosperity to all nations. Among other things, the Psalm foretells the gifts that Jesus received as an infant! The wise men’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh symbolize their honor and reverence for Jesus as their King. By bringing these gifts, they fulfilled the prophecy of the psalm!

The arrival of the wise men was not just a momentous occasion for Jesus and his family. It was a moment of great significance for the entire world. In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul writes that the coming of Jesus was part of God’s plan to bring salvation to all people. This salvation comes to us no matter who we are, or where we’re from. 

Paul speaks of the mystery of Christ, which has been revealed to all people through the Gospel. The mystery is that all people are fellow heirs of the promise of salvation in Christ. The Spirit made this truth known to the Apostles and Prophets. Through this gospel, the wise men recognized Jesus as their King, even though they weren’t Jewish.

As we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, let us remember the wise men and the gifts they brought to Jesus. Remember: the coming of Jesus was not just a momentous occasion for his family and for Israel. It was momentous for all of us. May we, like the wise men, recognize Jesus as our King and bring him the honor and reverence he deserves. May we seek to bring the Gospel’s good news to all people. May they, in turn, experience the unsearchable riches of Christ.


Feast of the Holy Name (2023)

Written for the Worth Commandery Facebook page, and published on New Year’s Day, 2023.

Happy New Year, Sir Knights! May God bless us and keep us all.

Today, on January 1st, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name. This feast reminds us of the power and significance of the names we carry. We see the importance of naming in the story of Abraham, whom God called to be the father of many nations. In the New Testament, we see the power of the name of Jesus, who was, and is, a servant, savior, and king.

What does it mean to bear the name of Jesus? Saint Paul tells us that Jesus, being in the form of God, didn’t try to grasp equality with God. He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. In other words, Jesus demonstrated true humility by putting the needs of others above His own.

We are called to bear Jesus’ name, and to emulate His example of humility and selflessness. This means putting the needs of others before our own, and living our lives in service to others.

This is not easy! We live in a world that values power and status above all other things. This broken world is not for us. All we have to do is look to the example of Jesus. He reminds us that true greatness comes not from what we have or what we accomplish. True greatness comes from the love and compassion we show to those around us.

Let us pray that we may have the strength and courage to bear the name of Jesus with honor and humility. Let us be a light to those around us! May we shine the love and grace of God into a world that needs it.


Worth Commandery Christmas Message (2022)

Written to be published as a circular letter for Worth Commandery № 19, K∴T∴

Sir Knights,

Popular portrayals of the Nativity can seem tough or bleak, with nativity plays showing Mary & Joseph having no place to stay at all. They go from door to door, asking for a room, turned down each time. At their wit’s end, they settle in for the night inside a stable or barn, where they prepare for labor and delivery, all by themselves.

This was not so! Luke 2:7 says, “… because there was no place from them at the katalyma.” Many Bibles use a traditional translation of katalyma as “inn,” but this word has another meaning – “guest room.” Mary and Joseph would not have been staying in a lodging house. They were traveling to Bethlehem, where her family lived, and it would have been a full house! Mary and Joseph weren’t strangers, but welcome guests. They stayed within the first floor of the home, where folks cooked meals and kept livestock during the winter. The heat from this room served to keep the upper floors warm. Jesus wasn’t born in a cold barn; rather, His loving family welcomed Him in a warm, happy household!

At Christmas, we should not just celebrate that Jesus, our Savior, came to Earth, but how he did so. Christ became a human, in all aspects. He had human experiences and was one of us. His humanity is a call to action. He came to live among us, teach us, and love us. In this way, we received a perfect example of human goodness and holiness. Because of Him, we know what it looks like to follow the way of the Lord without fault.

As we joyfully receive Jesus as our Redeemer, let us remember His humanity while on Earth, striving ever to emulate His humility, kindness, and love for others. May we, with sure confidence, behold Him when he comes to be our judge. 

Merry Christmas, Sir Knights. God bless you and keep you, always.

Dallas Commandery Christmas Observance (2022)

Written for the annual Installation of Officers & Christmas Observance of Dallas Commandery № 6, K∴T∴

The Collect

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Homily

Tomorrow is the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. Christmas is right around the corner! The scripture readings for tomorrow reflect that in many ways. They are Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7 & 16-18, Romans 1:1-7, and Matthew 1:18-25.

Our Isaiah reading sets up a profound contrast for our Gospel reading. In it, Ahaz, King of Judah, is facing a brutal war from the northern kingdom of Israel, and the kingdom of Aram. Ahaz is afraid, but God sends Isaiah to speak to him. Isaiah, as a messenger of God, commands Ahaz to demand a sign from God. Ahaz refuses, citing religious tradition. Isaiah then announces the Immanuel prophecy, which is one of the most important prophecies in the entire Bible, and foretells the coming of Jesus. Isaiah also tells Ahaz that even though he disobeyed God, he will still be victorious in the war against Israel and Aram, but will be vanquished by Assyria.

Our Gospel reading presents us with a similar situation which turns out completely differently. Let’s read it:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Normally, when we think about Advent, or Christmas, we think about Jesus as a baby, or perhaps Mary herself. However, we rarely think of Joseph! He isn’t what we would consider to be a “speaking role” in most cases. This Sunday, though, we shine the spotlight on him in a mighty and powerful way, telling the story of the “other annunciation.”

In this reading, Joseph is here to teach us, lead us, and hold a mirror up to our faces. In writing these passages, there are certain things that Matthew wants us to know about Joseph:

  • Joseph is righteous.
  • Joseph is faithful.
  • Joseph is ordinary.

These ideas about Joseph light our way in the dark and serve as driving character influences. 

Joseph is righteous. He was a religious and observant Jew, so being righteous, in a very big way, entails listening to God, particularly by following the laws and commandments of God. Matthew lays Joseph’s knowledge of the situation out pretty clearly: his fiancee, Mary, who he has not lived with yet, is pregnant, and he knows that he’s not the father. This is a bad situation, made worse by the fact that now, Joseph has to follow the law, if he wants to remain observant. Jewish law regarding an unfaithful wife provided two options: a public accusation and trial, or a more quiet divorce. The idea of staying with Mary, or just leaving her, without having some sort of punishment enacted, would have been unthinkable to Joseph. Standing by a decision like that would be saying that Joseph valued his relationship with Mary — or maybe his own pride — was more important than God’s laws and commandments.

Laying charges against Mary publically would have been a death sentence. In that day and age, women were explicitly second-class citizens, and in many cases, not even allowed to testify in court. It wouldn’t even have been his word against hers — it would have been his word alone! After being found guilty, she would have been violently executed by public stoning — a messy, slow, and terrible death.

Instead, Joseph sought the path of mercy and kindness, which is a type of righteousness in and of itself. He decided that he was going to divorce Mary by privately serving her with the equivalent of divorce papers. Betrothal was the first part in a two-step system for getting married, and was considered legally binding, so it had to be formally dissolved. This could be done by either party in the betrothal, by serving papers in front of several witnesses. Some folks would still find out why he was divorcing her, but it wouldn’t be many, and her life would be spared. This teaches us that Joseph is both righteous by the law, but merciful.

Joseph is faithful. A scene has been set for us: Joseph has decided to follow the law as best as he can, and move on with his life. However, on the night that he makes his decision, he is visited in his sleep by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel starts off the conversation by reminding Joseph that he is a descendant of King David, strengthening and encouraging him, and then tells him not to be afraid of taking Mary as his wife. The Angel then gives Joseph a stunning revelation: the son she will bear was conceived by the Holy Spirit and will save the whole world. Joseph’s prophetic dream ends with the Angel reciting from the prophecy of Isaiah, and he wakes up.

Joseph trusts the Angel of the Lord. Without any questions, without any pushback, and with seemingly no doubts, he changes his mind completely. When he laid down the night before, he was ready to divorce Mary and leave, never to see her again. When he woke up, he finalized their betrothal and took her as his wife. He stays with her, adopts the boy as his own son, and names him Jesus. This little child grows into Joseph’s heart, and the world is forever changed. 

Yes, Joseph is righteous by the law, but he is also faithful, and listens to the Lord. Contrast that with King Ahaz from our Isaiah reading! King Ahaz was also visited by the Angel of the Lord, and given a command. Unlike Joseph, King Ahaz rejected the revelation from God, and abided by dogmatic religious tradition instead. What Ahaz did is almost like standing in the kitchen, smelling a pie burning in the oven, and deciding not to take action, because the recipe calls for five more minutes!

The Gospels go on to demonstrate how important Joseph’s role as a “listener” to God is three more times. Joseph’s second dream from the Lord is a warning to protect his family, leave Bethlehem, and flee to Egypt, because King Herod is sending men to kill the infant Jesus. When Herod dies, but before the news reaches Egypt, Joseph receives his third dream, letting him know that it is safe to return to Israel. Finally, he receives a fourth dream — another warning to protect his family — and settles in Galilee, instead of their original destination of Judea.

There’s one more thing that we need to know about Jesus’s earthly father: Joseph is ordinary. Joseph has hopes and dreams, just like all of us. He has — or had — plans to build a normal life with Mary, have a normal family, and be a normal builder. When he found out that Mary was pregnant, and knew there was no way he was the father, he was hurt. Joseph — and therefore the Holy Family — is also broke. After Jesus is born, Joseph and Mary go to the Temple and sacrifice two turtledoves. According to Levitical law, parents were supposed to sacrifice a lamb after the birth of a child, but there was a hardship exemption: if your household couldn’t afford sacrificing a lamb, you could instead sacrifice two turtledoves or two young pigeons. This helps paint a picture of the Holy Family’s life, and the humble origins of the King of Heaven.

All of these aspects of Joseph are what he and Matthew use to hold a mirror up to our faces. Just like so many other characters from Scripture, Joseph is meant to be us, and we are meant to be Joseph. One of his strongest functions is echoing God’s invitation to participate in a holy life of righteousness and faith, through praying, listening, and acting.

The first lesson that Joseph teaches us is that we need to listen to God. Listening to God can happen in many different ways — there are all sorts of avenues that God uses to speak to us, and the vast majority of them aren’t life-shattering prophetic dreams from angelic beings. God speaks to us through prayer, through religious liturgy, through fellowship with both believers and non-believers, through the beauty of the sun’s rising and the sun’s setting, through the destructive fire that rips through a forest, and through the healing rain that raises new trees. When my son hears my voice, he’ll turn his head in my direction, and smile or laugh, and in that moment, I can feel God. Most often, God speaks to us quietly. One of the best examples comes from First Kings, Chapter 19:

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is why prayer — and silence — is so important for us. Prayer and active listening not only gives us an opportunity to hear God, but also teaches us how to recognize His voice in the first place! Without retreating to prayer and holy silence regularly, it becomes much harder.

Listening to God is only part of the equation, though. Just like Joseph, we have to not just listen, but respond! We have to learn how to act on the commands given to us by that still, small voice. The act of praying regularly helps prepare us for that. Living a life of faith and Christian practice on an everyday basis lays the groundwork down for taking tough steps and responding to God in times of challenge. We may, from time to time, even be called by God to break with tradition, whether it’s “capital-T” Tradition of the religious sort, or just cultural knowledge we’ve grown up with. After getting that call, what matters most is how we choose to respond. Will we stay bound up by self-importance and tradition, to reject God’s word, like King Ahaz, or will we humble ourselves, listen faithfully, and see the plan through, like Joseph?

The last lesson that Joseph teaches us is that Jesus grows into our hearts, just how Jesus grew into Joseph’s heart. When we clear space in our hearts for God, listen to Him, and act on His commands, we also create room for Christ in our hearts, and let him grow in ourselves. It’s also one of the reasons why God gave us children. We are created in the image of God, and when we learn to love our children unconditionally, we learn to love God unconditionally. This is one of the many ways that the still small voice of God speaks to us!

All this is to help open God’s great invitation to us. Joseph was asked to be the caretaker and legal father of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Mary herself was asked to physically give birth to him and put her life at risk in many ways! Together, they raised God on Earth, loved him unconditionally, and kept him safe throughout his childhood. When it comes to tall orders given to people other than Jesus Himself, those pretty much take the cake. The Holy Family — Joseph, Mary, and Jesus — accomplished God’s will on Earth in a way that has never been replicated, and will never be, until the coming of the New Jerusalem. We ourselves will never be called to tasks of these magnitudes, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be called to monumentous, world-changing tasks of our own. Every God-directed action that we take changes us forever, and affects everyone around us. These effects ripple out into our communities, and even our countries. To listen to God, and respond to Him, is to change the world. 

Advent is a season of reflection and preparation. On our way to Christmas, let’s make sure that we’re prepared to think and pray, to listen and act, to change the world, and, most importantly, to do so by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and all our strength, and by loving our neighbors as ourselves.


Worth Commandery Christmas Observance (2022)

Written for the annual Installation of Officers & Christmas Observance of Worth Commandery № 19, K∴T∴

The Collect

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 


The Homily

Prepare ye the way of the LORD! This is one of several instructions given to us by John the Baptist. It’s iconic. It’s dramatic. It demands our attention. John says these words while baptizing the faithful in the wildernesses of Judea. This is all described in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 3, Verses 1 through 12. That’s the Gospel reading for tomorrow, the Second Sunday in Advent.

This is a perfect command for this time of year. It’s not quite Christmas; we’re in the middle of Advent. This is a penitential season that calls us to prepare for Christmas. In our scripture reading cycle, we are getting ready for the birth of Jesus. This is a time of new beginnings, with new hope for all. We need to be ready for it! At times, this can feel a lot more literal. We make plans, clean our homes, and buy gifts. We prepare, prepare, and prepare.

Tomorrow is the Second Sunday in Advent, which gives us these scripture readings:

  • The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 11, Verses 1 through 10
  • Psalm 72, Verses 1 through 7 and 18 through 19
  • The Letter to the Romans, Chapter 15, Verses 4 through 13
  • And the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 3, Verses 1 through 12.

Our Isaiah reading is a powerful prophecy. It’s one of the most important ones in the Hebrew Bible. It describes the coming of a Messiah, starting at the vivid opening line:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

As Christians and Knights Templar, we understand this to be Jesus Christ. The reading describes a beautiful, peaceful, and just world. Wolves, lambs, lions, children, snakes, and all sorts of animals live in harmony. The knowledge of God fills the whole world!

The Gospel reading, of course, is the crux of our lesson today:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 

This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

That’s where our Gospel reading concludes. What do you think of that wake-up call? John pulls no punches and minces no words with his instruction. He calls us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” First, though, he gives us a command in preparation: repent! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. John sends a clear message. In order to prepare the way, we must repent. 

It sounds harsh, in some ways. Confession, sin, repentance. These words can sound a little ugly. Combine them with John’s fiery delivery, and they sound downright imposing. A smelly, half-naked man, yelling in the desert inspires little comfort.

Repentance doesn’t have to be scary. John is quoting from Isaiah, one of the most hopeful books of the Bible. Isaiah gives us beautiful visions of paradise! We need to look at sin and repentance from a different perspective. The way we frame ideas makes a real difference. 

Let’s boil things down to their most simple form. Christianity is about having two loving relationships. One is a focused love of, and with, God. The other is a universal love of our neighbor. What is sin, then? Sin, in this context, is failing to participate in those relationships. We need to both love, and give ourselves to love. When we don’t do that, we are in sin. Confession, then, is admitting that we need to love better. Repentance is our new (or renewed) commitment to that love.

John’s call to repentance is radical and transformative. This is the changing of one’s life at its core. It happens as a result of deep penitence or spiritual conversion. It’s the turning around of your whole nature. Repentance — this turning around — is a continual process. Our salvation is secure, true. Preparing for the kingdom, though, is a work in progress.

John warns us that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What does this mean for us? Jesus makes this clear in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 17, Verses 20 and 21, when he says,

“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” 

This, then, means that the kingdom is here, at our feet, and all around us!

This kingdom, though, promised us peace. Isaiah says so. Jesus says so. If the kingdom is “here,” then where is the peace? Everywhere we look, there is a lack of peace. There are twenty-two separate wars raging across the globe. Our kids aren’t safe in their own schools. Last year, the opioid epidemic killed eighty-one thousand people. We haven’t even started talking about broken homes. What about folks with no home at all? Something is missing in the way of peace. 

When Sarah and I first took our son home, I stopped reading the news for a long time. Every time I tried to catch up, I’d have to stop. I would hold Raffi in my arms, awestruck by the beauty of creation. At the same time, I would fear for his future. Late many nights, while soothing his colic, a dark question plagued me. What kind of world is my boy going to grow up in?

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. That’s not a question a father has to ask. There can be peace — but how do we achieve it? The answer to our question is right here, in scripture. Let’s refer to the book of Isaiah, Chapter 32, Verse 17:

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

That righteousness is fulfilling those relationships with God and our neighbor. That righteousness grows from our repentance and the resulting healing. It comes from living in, and living towards, God. The peace that we’ve been looking for isn’t something that we just find. It isn’t even something that we can claim or earn. We grow the peace of the kingdom, just like fruit! In the New Eden, we are the gardeners. 

This makes sense for Christmastime. The season of Christmas is about rebirth and renewal. It’s a reflection of Easter. The rebirth is right there! Repentance is about letting God work through you so much that you change! You won’t be the same person you were before! This isn’t a one-time deal, either. Every time we make this commitment, we transform. In some cases, it’s a big transformation. In some cases, it’s just enough. But in all cases, it’s a gift from above. It’s a new lease on life: a rebirth. 

Jesus came to Earth on Christmas Day to bring us the kingdom. It’s here, with us, at this moment. It’s our job to prepare it for his return. When we say, “us,” and “our,” it means us, right here. The Saints who repent and build the kingdom aren’t just dead people in old paintings. The 1929 hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” says it best:

They lived not only in ages past,
there are hundreds of thousands still,
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.

We are the saints of God! We repent, love and give ourselves to love, and seek peace. This is the Great Work that furthers the Kingdom, right here! When we build, we’re not just building for ourselves. We build for everyone that comes after us. When my baby boy smiles at me, I know who I’m building the kingdom for.

When we took our first breaths, the world handed us swords and spears. With his words and his resurrection, Jesus gave us a hammer and an anvil. It’s our job to prepare the way of the Lord. Let’s beat those swords into plowshares, and those spears into pruning hooks.


Giving Thanks for Pilate’s Accusation

This was an educational talk for the October 2019 stated meeting of Worth Commandery № 19, KT.

Giving Thanks for Pilate’s Accusation:

A Perspective from the Maltese Priory


According to the Gospels, when Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus of Nazareth to execution by crucifixion, he ordered that a sign be placed over Jesus’ head while on the cross. The exact phrasing of the sign is unclear, but the most famous rendition is from John 19:19-20, which reads as follows:

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

This title, which was a criminal accusation from Pilate, has survived to present day, and evolved into a title of unparalleled honor among Christians for Jesus of Nazareth, now Jesus the Christ. It is represented by the Latin initialism INRI.

History of the Term

There are two primary terms related to INRI. The first is the title “King of the Jews,” which was used exclusively by Gentiles such as the Magi, Pilate, the Romans, and so forth. The Jewish population of Judea instead used the term “King of Israel.” Each group objected to the other group’s epithet towards Jesus for different reasons, while Pilate himself objected to the use of the term “King,” due to the implication of revolution against his governorship of Judea. The author of the Gospel of Mark himself makes a careful and conscious distinction between the two terms, and who uses them.

The first reference to “King of the Jews” that we see is in Matthew 2:1-2, when the Magi talk to Herod, asking “where is the child who has been born King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” This sets a terrible series of events into movement. Herod tries to interrogate the Magi, but fails. His failure to discover the identity of the perceived pretender to the throne leads to a genocidal edict to kill all Bethlehemite males under the age of three.

The first reference to either term in the Passion Narratives occurs during Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate. In each of the Gospels, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3, John 18:33). In the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke), Jesus replies, “You say so.” However, in John 18:33-37, the exchange is substantially different:

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

After interrogating Jesus, Pilate has him scourged and humiliated. The soldiers clothe him in purple robes and a crown of thorns, mocking his status as a “king” (Matthew 27:29-30, Mark 15:17-19, John 19:2-3). The primary criminal charge leveled against Jesus is claiming to be a king (John 19:12). Once Jesus is crucified, some version of “The King of the Jews” is placed over his head (Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, Matthew 27:37, John 19:19-20). According to some translations of Luke 23:28, such as the ones found in the 1599 Geneva Bible and the King James Version, it was specifically written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The last use of “King of the Jews” occurs in Luke 23:36-37 and Matthew 27:42 when the Roman soldiers mock Jesus as he is dying on the cross.

Use by the Church

The Early Church often referred to Jesus as the “King of the Judeans.” This was a huge risk for members to take, as this was tantamount to treason, and by calling themselves “followers of Jesus,” they were essentially associating themselves with a revolutionary agent. This was more strongly emphasised by Christ’s name, which we have Romanized as “Jesus,” but was originally Yeshua or “Joshua,” and meant “liberator.” 1

As the Early Church evolved into the Western Church and the Eastern Church, so too did the initialism used on representations of the cross. The Western Church uses INRI, which stands for the Latin phrase IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM. The Eastern Church instead uses INBI, which is the initialism of the Greek phrase, IESUS HO NAZORAEOS HO BASILEUS TON IUDAEON. 2 The Greek word basileus means “monarch,” usually in reference to a king or an emperor. 3 The Eastern Church also frequently uses the variant INBK, for IESUS HO NAZORAEOS HO BASILEUS TU KOSMU, which translates to English as “Emperor of the Universe” instead of “King of the Jews.” According to Catholic tradition, Saint Helena (who is revered by both the Western and Eastern Churches) brought the tablet with the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew inscriptions to Rome. 4

Esoteric Latin Interpretations

There are a number of Latin sayings or mottos that have been generated from INRI. 5 Among them include:

  • In Necis Renascor Integer – In Death I Am Reborn Intact and Pure.
  • Iustum Necare Reges Impios – It is Just to Kill Impious Kings
  • Igne Nitrum Roris Invenitur – By Fire, the Nitre of the Dew is Discovered
  • Intra Nobis Regnum Iehova – The Kingdom of God is Within Us

Of note are two particular versions which have been carried into many esoteric traditions, including some degrees in Freemasonry 6:

  • Igne Natura Renovatur Integra – By Fire, Nature Renews
  • Insignia Naturae Ratio Illustrat –  Reason Illuminates Nature’s Symbols  

Esoteric Hebrew Interpretations

Esoteric traditions often tie the letters of INRI to the Hebrew words yam, nur, ruach, and yebeshas. 7 Yam translates to “vast body of water,” and represents the element of water. Nur translates to “fire.” Ruach translates to “breath” or “wind” and represents air. According to Albert Mackey, yebeshas was translated by Jean Baptiste Marie Ragon to mean “earth” 8, although there is little evidence that this is even a real Hebrew word. Regardless, if this is the correct interpretation, then the word INRI is a representation of Jesus Christ as the Creator of all.

One of the more interesting interpretations of INRI is drawn using letter-based correspondences from an esoteric Hebrew text called the Book of Formation, written some time between the 2nd Century BC and the
2nd Century AD. The Book of Formation describes correspondences between Hebrew letters, elements, numbers, planets, and Zodiac signs. From Formation, we can draw this cycle, as described in Modern Magick by Donald Kraig 9:

  • “I” is tied to Yod, which corresponds to Virgo. It represents untouched nature and birth.
  • “N” is tied to Nun, which corresponds to Scorpio. It represents death.
  • “R” is tied to Reesh, which corresponds to the Sun. It represents light and resurrection.
  • The final “I” once again represents untouched nature and birth.

This correspondence gives us the basic function of man’s journey to Christ. We are born in our natural state. We choose to die in Christ and be resurrected in Christ. We are reborn as new beings. This applies to both our emotional and spiritual journey in Christ while on Earth as well as our journey to and past Judgement Day. This is the process of INRI.

Exactly What it Says on the Tin

The most important of the inscriptions above Christ’s head, however, may have been the one in Hebrew. It read, Yshu Hnotsri Wmlk Hyhudim, which, when initialized, gives us the letters “Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh,” the ineffable Hebrew name of God. Pilate, probably unknowingly and unintentionally, declared exactly who Jesus was to the world at large. When challenged by the Jewish leaders to change the inscription, he gave us the famous response, “Quod scripsi, scripsi,” or, “what I have written, I have written.”


  1. Wren, Brian A. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.
  2. Doornbos, Daniel. “Definition and Meaning of INRI.” Research Paper, Golden State College, Masonic Societas Rosicruciana In Civitatibus Foederatis, 2008.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Weiss, Roberto. The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1969.
  5. Zeldis, León. Masonic Symbols and Signposts. Lancaster, VA: Anchor Communications, 2003.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Mackey, Albert G, and Charles T McClenachan. An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences. 2nd ed. L. H. Everts & Co., 1884.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Kraig, Donald Michael. Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2011.

Protected by the Cherubim

1 Kings 6:14,19:

“So Solomon built the house, and finished it. And the oracle he prepared in the house within, to set there the ark of the covenant of the LORD.”

When Solomon finished the Sanctum Sanctorum with the help of Hiram Abiff, he seated the Ark of the Covenant beneath the extended wings of the Cherubim. When he completed and dedicated the Temple to the glory of God as we witnessed in the Most Excellent Master’s degree, the glory and name of God manifested itself as a cloud of flame and black smoke. This fulfilled the promise that God made to King David.

What do the Cherubim and the fiery presence of God on their wings mean for us as masons, though?

The Cherubim in Scripture

The cherubim fulfilled several functions: they protected the ark of the covenant, they touched the inner walls of the temple, and they supported the presence of God. In 1 Chronicles 28:18, they are referred to as God’s chariot. This was known as the “Mercy Seat,” and in Greek was called the hilasterion, or “that which removes sin.”

Chapters 1 & 10 of the book of Ezekiel explain that the Cherubim are used by God as his chariot to move around Chaldea and to leave the temple in Jerusalem. The concept of God’s chariot was and is considered so important in Judaism that there is an entire school of thought known as Merkabah Mysticism or Chariot Mysticism

The central theme of Chariot Mysticism is stories of ascent to heaven, and God’s presence on His throne. This theme manifests in the school’s primary practice, which is called the Work of the Chariot and focuses on meditation and contemplation. In the Work of the Chariot, practitioners go through a series of veils, each guarded by an angel, and secured by a password and sign. The password and sign for each veil was the name and signet of the angel guarding it.

As the practitioner passes through each veil, he unfolds more and more of God’s divine revelation, and re-joins his soul with God. This process, including passing the veils using passwords and signs, should be very familiar to us as Royal Arch Masons.

The process of reintegration with God is also a central theme of Jewish and Christian mysticism. Revelation  22:14 states

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

This ties back to Genesis 3:24:

So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Once again, we see the Cherubim as guardians – this time, as guardians of the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life is the key to both the Garden of Eden and the city of New Jerusalem (assuming they are not, in fact, the same place). In order to enter New Jerusalem, or reintegrate with God, we must follow its path.

The Tree of Life details ten different stages that man must reach in order to reintegrate with God, followed in a specific order (as detailed by the flaming sword of Genesis). Traveling through ten stages means that there are nine veils, gates, or archways to pass, much like the nine arches that we learn about in the Royal Arch Mason and Select Master degrees. 

The Cherubim in Ritual

In the Royal Master degree, the Cherubim are involved from the start. The candidate is received by walking into the room, under the extended wings of the Cherubim, and around the Ark of the Covenant. This is different from his reception in the Capitular degrees in that it he is not formally received, and his conductor does not give him an explanation of how and why he is being received in the way that he is. It is also more of a symbolic act on the candidate’s part than an instruction from the conductor. 

The cherubim that extend their wings over the Ark of the Covenant are a representation of God’s strength and protection, because they both support God’s presence, and protect the Ark of the Covenant. For a candidate, every degree is a request for further light. When the candidate passes under the wings of the Cherubim, and into the circle of angels, he is showing that any quest for more truth must first start by placing oneself in the strength and protection of God.

We know that while they supported the name and fiery presence of God with one set of wings, the Cherubim also touched the inner walls of the Temple with their other set of wings, but could not be seen from outside the Sanctum Sanctorum. This is very important to us as Freemasons, because King Solomon’s temple represents us as human beings. As the strength, protection, and chariot of God, the Cherubim connect the inner walls of our mental, emotional, and spiritual temple to the presence of God that is inside each and every one of us, even though nobody can see that from outside of our hearts. Our inner spiritual lives are guarded from the world.

The Tree of Life can be divided into three pillars that are named Severity, Mercy, and Harmony. The two Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant can be seen as representing Severity and Mercy, while the fiery presence of God represents the pillar of Harmony. The top of the pillar of Harmony in the Tree of Life is known as the Crown, and represents total integration with God. The Cherubim and Ark from Scripture and our ritual are a reminder that the Tree of Life – which is our key to Eden and New Jerusalem – is inside of us.

In Conclusion

As Royal Arch Masons and Royal & Select Masters, we are performing our own Work of the Chariot. Every degree we have taken, and every degree we confer, is one more veil that we leap through. The more we learn about ourselves, and the more we improve ourselves through Freemasonry, the closer and closer we come to reintegrating with the Divine fire that lives both inside of us and all around us. 

The Cherubim remind us that God lives in every one of us. Our hearts are filled with his fire and presence. We know the name of God – we just have to look within ourselves and surrender to His strength and protection.

Preserving the Word

The Legend of the Cryptic Degree

Presented by Companion Gabriel Jagush at a stated assembly of Texas Council #321, Royal & Select Masters, on October 2, A∴ Dep∴ 3018.

The Common Work

The American Royal Master and Select Master degrees of the Cryptic Council originally have their origins as offshoots of Ecossais degrees from the Burgundy region of France. These degrees all deal with the method of preserving the “true Word.” They are known as “Cryptic” degrees, “Ninth Arch” degrees, “Secret Vault” degrees, or “Sacred Vault” degrees. They all share common themes: there is always a treasure, and there is always a vault, cave, or underground hiding spot.

In the original legend, the Builder of the Temple engraved the Word on a triangular neck jewel that he always kept on his person. In a moment when his life was endangered, he threw the jewel – and consequently, the Word – into a well in the northeast corner of the Temple. Much time later, three workers or builders found the jewel in the well at noontime. Later, the legend was changed so that the hiding of the Word was pre-planned and deliberate.

This legend appears in the Jewish Talmud and the Christian Bible, and is found – in some form – in every Masonic Rite all over the world. One of the first references to the Cryptic legend is found in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, which details the preservation of secrets as revealed to Enoch – something we learn about in the Royal Arch degree. Enoch’s story in the Sacred History bridges the gap between the Capitular degrees, which deal with recovering the Word, and the Cryptic degrees which deal with preserving the degrees. Our Cryptic degrees themselves take place a long time after Enoch’s story.

We know there were two vaults – Enoch’s and Solomon’s. Solomon’s builders found Enoch’s vault, and Solomon later constructed his own separate vault where he deposited the Word. Early versions of the Select Master degree treat of both arches, but our present-day version only deals with Solomon’s arches.

Throughout the world in every Rite, the Craft degrees only deal with the loss of the Word, and the Capitular degrees only deal with the restoration of the Word.

All versions of the Select Master degree have common themes:

  • There is always a treasure.
  • There is always a vault, cave, or underground hiding place.
  • There is always loss of the knowledge of God, either by the fall of Adam, the wickedness of mankind after the flood, or the plot against Hiram.
  • There is always a method of preservation, either by hollow pillars, an ark, or a messiah figure.

The manner of preservation doesn’t really matter – what matters is that they are all places of refuge or safe places to hide secrets. The ark itself is an innovation from later versions of the degree, and is entirely made-up for the purpose of our degrees.

The Treasure

The historical object of the Cryptic degrees is to detail how a secret treasure was hidden – in our case, the idea was developed by Hiram Abiff, and executed by King Solomon. In a literal sense, the secret treasure is the physical manifestation of the Word, or the name of God, on top of the Ark of the Covenant. However, as Masons, we should understand that what is being preserved is the knowledge of the Ineffable Name of God, not necessarily a representation or written form thereof. In a narrative sense, it is as important to modern Masons as ever, because without knowing how the word was preserved, the Royal Arch degree doesn’t make sense. It is the completion of the story, and the way we fill in all the “plot holes” in the degrees. More importantly, however, it is a proof and lesson that as Masons, we should desire to know God above all else, and treasure His name.

The Secret Vault

Descending into the secret vault can represent many things. When I think of the more light-hearted parallels, I think of how passing each arch is like a passing year in, or deeper level of, a friendship, love of a spouse, trust of a brother, or knowledge gained. However, that’s not the primary purpose of the secret vault.

The secret vault is, emblematically, a grave, and by descending into it, we emulate the process of dying. Zabud encounters the point of no return when he goes through the door that was left ajar. After that, he must either die, or join the Select of the Twenty-Seven, but he can never un-open that door. Just as Zabud went past the point of no return, so will we, eventually. We can’t undo becoming Select Masters, and we certainly can’t reverse death.

However, what awaits us in the secret vault is the Word. Here on earth, we can only guess at what God is really like, or what awaits us after we die. Much as Zabud is totally clueless until he descends into the vault and becomes one of the twenty-seven, we don’t know what awaits us until we embrace death and join the ranks of those that have died. How different would this story be if Zabud had rejected Solomon’s offer and been executed? How different will our story be if we reject God’s truth?

The Discovery

Discovering the sacred treasure in the Royal Arch degree and discovering the secret vault in the Select Master degree represents an allegory for the effect that discovering the nature of God has on our lives. The Word itself was used for the government of the Craft, and seen as being so important that it needed to be preserved. After preservation, it survived the destruction of the Temple and was hidden away safely until it was discovered by the three Most Excellent Masters of the Royal Arch degree, who found it by being willing to do any work, even if they risked their lives by doing so. The Word is so important that the Select of the Twenty-Seven were willing to defend it at all costs, and were more deeply connected to each other than anyone else in the Craft. The Word completes our Masonic journey.

In the same way, knowledge of God governs our lives, and it’s so important to us as a species that we’ve done everything we can to preserve it, be it through telling others, or by writing holy texts. God, and knowledge of God, survives every calamity and every disaster. God is always waiting for us to find Him, and we should pursue Him at all costs – even if we risk our lives. This pursuit binds us together as believers more closely than anyone else. Much how the Word completes our Masonic journey, God completes our lives, and much how the Word was hidden in the Temple, knowledge of God is hidden inside each and every one of us.

The Trust Reposed

Well, it seems that things are going okay. This past Tuesday was a long meeting. There were multiple awards to hand out, all the initial business of the first meeting of the year, and so on. We didn’t get out until 9 PM, which is really something we need to try and avoid. Life would be a lot easier if we didn’t have the Chapter/Council meetings back-to-back.

Some of the proposals I made seemed to be met with a lot of skepticism – but quiet skepticism. I am remaining optimistic. One thing that I’m proud of is that with the exception of one part where I skipped a short section, I have got the ritualistic opening/closing down really well.

I’m excited to see what kind of change I can help affect here, and how I can help my Chapter & Council grow.

The Point of No Return

Tomorrow night is my first meeting as the presiding officer in my Chapter and Council. I’ve been working on the meeting agenda like a madman staring at the wall, looking for hidden messages. There may be such thing as over-preparing, but for now, I’m just gonna roll with it and let myself obsess over it.

I’m going to be proposing some practical stuff, and a bunch of idealistic stuff. It’s gonna be great. I really do hope that this is something that the Chapter and Council see as a positive thing. I also have some education lined up for Council, but I don’t know if we’ll have enough time. I hope we do.

I’m praying with gratitude for luck, wisdom, and guidance. I guess I’ll report back later with results?