More Questions

72If you are at all like me, you often have more questions than answers. I think that is a good thing. I’m always leery of anyone who seems to always have “the” answer.

Nothing in life is simple. I’m fairly sure at this point that it’s not meant to be. Puzzling seems to be a very human trait. We’re good at it.

So I confront the readings today and I find myself with more questions that answers.

Isaiah trumpets to the Hebrews who are returning from exile that Jerusalem awaits them. She awaits as a welcoming mother who will comfort in every way her children. She will care for their every want and need. We need only think of our own youth and the sweet comfort of a mother’s arms to soothe our bruised knees and our frightened minds at approaching thunder and lightning.

God, we understand, loves and cares for us in much the same way. God never is not Mother to us.

Paul tells us that he has died to all that is secular in the world. He lives in the Crucified Lord. Nothing else matters, not the Law certainly. Only this new person who has risen in the Risen Lord. No more will Paul concern himself with the mundane matters of earthly living.

Jesus speaks to his followers, selecting seventy-two to go in pairs to the towns he will later visit. They are in some sense to “prepare his way”. A whole series of instructions attach. They are confusing.

I struggle with what these readings are to mean to me.

In Paul I see a man, who by a revelation, has utterly turned about his life. He is poster child for the person who says A today and B tomorrow. The law enforcer now claims that the Law does not matter. He urges radical change, radical rethinking of what once was considered true. Are we to do the same? Are we to look at Church in some new ways? Are we to be thought blasphemer like Paul was?

Where is God in all this? How are we to know?

Paul seems to suggest that only by living utterly in the Cross can we be sure to make these radical changes rightly. Is that what he suggests?

And what of Jesus?

Why seventy-two?

Why in twos?

Why, why, why we ask.

What was it about these particular seventy-two? What of those not chosen? Why not the apostles? What made the seventy-two different? Better? Worse?

Jesus is at pains to make it clear that God is the actor, they merely the vehicle. Why should they greet no one along the way? Why burden only one household in the community for your entire stay? Why announce to the rejecting town that they are rejected? Is the point the teaching of the seventy-two or the work they will do on their travels? I wonder.

These questions puzzle me for nothing I read seems satisfying.

Surely there are answers to parts of the instructions. Jesus seems to want to make it clear that you are not the “main attraction” in these towns. No celebrations. No special foods. Go to them appearing as the poorest of the poor.

You are lambs. Not just sheep mind you, but lambs, the most vulnerable of the flock. You are laborers, God is the Master sending you. The message seems to be one of trust. Trust expressed in Isaiah and by Paul. Trust in God, all will be well.

Don’t trouble me or you with human things. Don’t worry about feeding yourselves, housing yourselves, petty squabbles about this or that. Trust.

That appears to be the only common thread I can see.

Or is it all about freedom from bondage? Are all these lessons in the freedom we find in Christ?

Yet the readings are rich in other things that call out for a deeper meaning.

I am unable to see it. And perhaps for me, that is my message today.

What am I blinded to by the logs that have created a log jam in my mind?

The readings seem to offer tantalizing ideas of greater and deeper truths.

It is a lot to ponder.

Do you have thoughts to offer?

I would be so pleased if you can give me an answer or two.

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Freedom?

plow-580x250It’s ironic. We hear a lot of talk about freedom these days. We’re all in danger of losing it. If you believe the political right in this country. Those “freedoms” that are usually left unnamed. You know, “our” freedoms?

Of course “freedom” tends to come down to me doing what I want when I want to. And that so-called freedom ends up not being freedom but slavery. We become imprisoned in a world we create. We find ourselves wondering why we are not happy as we sit among our riches.

Jesus understood that. So did the writer of 1Kings, who wrote about the encounter between Elijah and Elisha. “Just let me kiss my mother and father goodbye!” Paul understood it when he wrote: “For freedom, Christ set us free!” We mistake freedom for all the stuff of life that prevents us from getting on about the business of actual freedom. We always have something to do first. And that leads to one more thing, and then another, and finally we are lamenting that we can’t wait for retirement so “we can spend more time doing charity work”.  I hate to tell you this, but at retirement you will find more reasons to put things off–for just a bit of course.

Elijah, Paul and Jesus are trying to save us from ourselves. Left to our own freedom, we will become mired in acquiring things, building “security” for the future, getting ourselves into the position we believe necessary from which we can then, “follow Jesus”. In a word, we will never get to it.

True freedom is not in getting our way with the world. It’s not in bank accounts or houses. Elisha demonstrates how well he gets the message, when he turns back not to kiss his parents goodbye, but rather to “burn his bridges”. He kills the oxen necessary to his very survival, cooks them, and hands out the meat to all who are hungry. He now has nothing.

Jesus told the rich man that he should go and sell everything he had and follow him in order to secure the kingdom.

When we hear those words, we blink, and we look with begging eyes to anyone to assure us that we aren’t supposed to take that literally are we?

And indeed it should not be taken literally. Civilization would come to a screeching halt (some might think it should), if we all simply walked away from home and kin and went off to preach to each other? We would soon come to the conclusion that those farms were useful since we all need to eat. Somebody needs to build and maintain transportation. Someone needs to build and maintain shelter.

Of course it can be literal. Elisha was “called”, as were Jesus’ disciples. As were and as are others. Sometimes God is insistent that a particular person has a particular job in this time and place to accomplish and the call is literal. Radically give up your life as you know it, and FOLLOW ME.

But I believe that that call is there for all of us in a real sense too. We are all being called to follow Christ into a new but very real freedom that severs the slavery aspect of our relationship to things and ways of being. It is the radical realignment of our relationship to this world that is being offered in these passages.

While we respond to deadlines and mortgage balances with renewed dedication to acquiring assets, we are enslaved by our possessions. They own us. We have no time, emotional or real, to address the real issues of the planet, the issues of the Kingdom that Jesus lovingly called us to.

These are not small requests, but the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Today our world spins more and more out of control. Our political leaders are invested in a game of their own, one that involves the pursuit of naked power and riches. Our business community, structured as it is, places almost an exclusive premium on the “bottom line”. Profit drives the industrial machines of the world.

Meanwhile people are hungry, without shelter. People are sick, without care. The planet groans under the massive assault of an indifferent populace which rapes its bounty and leaves sludge and barren useless land. People labor in real slavery, unable to make a decent wage, unable to care for themselves or their families.

We are too busy in our “freedom” to address anybody else’s problems. We are lost in our own slavery to “the good life” however defined. We are not free to follow Jesus, because we don’t have time. See me next week, year, decade, and maybe I can do something, but not now. The mortgage is due and I need to work another overtime shift to make it.

These things are real. I don’t minimize them. But the way out of this morass is not less attention to discipleship but more. Paul warned us:

But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.

No one is free until all are free. To follow is not to mouth platitudes. It is to do the work. Love your neighbor as yourself IS the law as Paul stated.

We are not losing our freedoms. We have yet to gain our freedom.

Today’s readings point the way and make that path straight. Follow it.

Amen.

This Is Love

MagdalenThe readings this week are amongst the richest of any we have I think. There are so many directions one can go.

In the first, from 2 Samuel, Nathan, who has, as prophet, anointed David as king,  finds his young king having committed great sin in the killing of Uriah in order to marry his wife Bathsheba. When David faces his sin, he laments, only to be told by Nathan, that his sin has already been forgiven by God.

In Galatians, Paul sets out what will become one of the major points of argument between Catholic and Protestant with the discussion of faith by works or by faith alone. Central to that discussion is the great love Jesus has for us, a love that is unwarranted given our sinful nature.

And then of course we have the great story in Luke of Mary, the sinful woman, who enters in upon a private dinner and becomes the subject of yet another lesson in love and forgiveness.

What is central to all, is that forgiveness is given first. Love follows.

As David comes to the awful realization of his sin, Nathan assures  him:

“The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die.”

Similarly, Paul says:

I live by faith in the Son of God
who has loved me and given himself up for me.

Yet, it reaches it nadir in the in Luke:

Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”

Debt was a serious issue in Jesus’ time. In fact the poor often lived under crushing debt. Often the end of that was the loss of the land and the peasant and his family had to find other means to secure a living. In fact we know that Jesus’ father was a carpenter or stone worker as was Jesus, so in fact this may have happened to his family. In any case, it was a situation which would have been well understood among those that listened to Jesus’ parable.

To forgive debt, then, was a very great deal. It could and often would mean the very survival of a person or family. It was no small thing. No doubt such a person, forgiven of a significant debt would feel the deepest of gratitude and love to the one who had saved them from such a life of hardship and uncertainty.

It is this context through which we view Mary’s actions.

Scholars widely believe that this Mary was the great Magdalen, the one whom many  believe Jesus ultimately entrusted much of his teaching to, and who in a very real sense is a true apostle, one but barely acknowledged by the Church.

Mary bursts into the room, uninvited and proceeds to do some rather amazing things. First, she has entered a private dinner, not to serve, but to disrupt, something women were not to do in that culture. Further, she touches a man not her husband in the most intimate of ways, bathing his feet with her tears and kisses. She wipes them with her hair, obviously let down, another taboo in her culture. Finally she anoints him with a rich oil, pouring it over his head. In this way she acts as both prophet and priestess in anointing the king.

Simon, the Pharisee is shocked and taken aback. No doubt he is ready to call the guard and have her thrown violently into the street. Yet, of course this doesn’t happened since Jesus now uses the event as a teaching moment.

Jesus juxtaposes Mary’s treatment of him to that of Simon himself. For in failing to give him the appropriate welcome into his house, Simon has indeed shown his disrespect for Jesus and what he believes Jesus stands for. In fact Simon questions Jesus being a prophet, since he believes he was unaware of the sinful nature of the woman before him.

So Jesus explains that Mary has done for him what Simon was unwilling to do, give him the hospitality that Simon neglected.

And we learn something very important as well. And that something is that the love flows from the forgiveness already given.

This is a lesson that we miss, and translation is everything here. The NRSV translates the passage thusly:

So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.

Yet, the American Bible translates thusly:

Her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love.

The difference is so important. For in the second, we see that it falls in line with the words given in both 2 Samuel and in Galatians.

Mary does not love Jesus in order for her sins to be forgiven. Mary loves Jesus because her sins were forgiven.

That is the great lesson to us. We do not love God in order to go to heaven, or in order to be lovable by God, we love God because God has loved us despite what most no human would do–our grievous sins for which we have as yet not been even repentant! To say nothing of making reparations for. This is LOVE! This is what makes Jesus so worthy of our deepest love and obedience. For he has loved us in spite of ourselves, when nobody would or perhaps should.

This is the lesson too of 2 Samuel, for Nathan assures David who has just realized his great sin, that it has already been forgiven. Of course Paul says essentially the same thing. Jesus died once and for all for all of our sins, present and future, and to all those born thereafter. We are loved in spite of what we have done or will do.

Such love is beyond the pale for most humans. It is “unconditioned”.

Imagine the likes of Mary, a woman who apparently was alone, perhaps shunned by all, suddenly aware that she is loved beyond measure simply because she exists! Is it any wonder that her tears “bathed” Jesus’ feet?

May we all answer the love of Christ with such an acclamation and proclamation as she.

Amen.

mary-washing-jesus-feetI am greatly indebted to the following for some ideas and facts regarding this reflection:

Tender Protection, by John Foley, S.J.

Move Over Pope Francis and Bring on FrancEs! by Mike Rivage-Seul

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