What is the Better Part?

marthaandmary-1The story of Martha and Mary is like an old friend. As women, sometimes we feel like Martha and sometimes Mary. What is there to tease from this periscope that hasn’t been said again and again?

I’m a liberation theology student and have read a fair number of learned tombs on the subject. One that I never got around to is the perhaps “bible” for women’s liberation theology, In Memory of Her, the groundbreaking work by Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Dr. Fiorenza is no doubt the most famous of all women in the work of retrieving women’s voice in the early church.

I thought it might be useful to use that lens of women’s liberation theology to look at the story and see what insights one might gain.

As far as we know, all the books of the bible were written by men, men who lived in a time and place in which patriarchy was the norm. Roles were highly gendered, and sexes were often segregated in the home and in the synagogue. Women were lumped with children in their general irrelevancy in decision-making and in leadership.

Of course the role of Martha was the norm in the Palestine of Jesus’ time. Women were servers of men. They were in charge of the hearth. We see this in the initial story from Genesis wherein the strangers visit Abraham. The code of hospitality requires Abraham to make strangers comfortable, to feed and lodge them as needed. Note that Abraham doesn’t do the work himself, he orders his servant to slay the steer and prepare the meat while he tells Sarah to get busy making the bread. The man, Abraham of course entertains the guests while others do the work of hospitality.

Similarly Martha gets about the business of preparing food for Jesus and those of his followers who have arrived. Such a large entourage, no doubt there was much to be done. But Luke introduces something new here, Mary, who sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. Luke’s readers or listeners surely would have seen nothing untoward in the Martha end of things, but they must have been taken aback by Mary’s unusual behavior.

Women in that time did not eat with men, and they surely didn’t sit in on men’s conversations. So Mary’s actions surely got everyone’s attention when the story was first heard. Martha’s actions are what would be expected as well. She is put out by having to do all the work herself.

Martha seeks assistance from a male in getting Mary back to her business of helping in the kitchen. This again might be the norm  since it would have been unusual for women to live alone (we believe they had a brother Lazarus  from the Gospel of John. Although John was written well after Luke’s account and it is never a good idea to conflate Gospels to “fill in the blanks”, it would be more likely that the women did not live alone than not). Yet Martha seeks out Jesus rather than the male of the household to make her complaints.

Jesus here is suggesting, that women should be part of the preaching and teaching diakonia. It was service of a different kind. Jesus, through Luke, announces that in this area, his followers are to be different as well. Women were not simply in the background, ducking in and out discretely as they tended to the food and drink of those men who were about the business of spreading the gospel. Women were to learn too, and thus to be ministers of the Word.

Luke’s framing of the story suggests that the early communities were conflicted on this issue of women serving in teaching, preaching and leadership. And Luke seems to come down kind of in the middle.

What is disturbing in the text is the manufactured fight between women. Surely diakonia involved  serving at table (eucharist), listening to the Word (and resultant preaching) and leadership within the community (Martha welcomes Jesus to her home). Yet Luke manages to split the combined diaconate and make Martha’s “part” of it lesser and somewhat derogatory by reference to the “better part” of Mary’s service. This must have echoed the fight going on within the church itself a the time of Luke’s writing.

As well, Luke makes Mary’s service a “listening” and inactive service. While to sit around at the feet of the rabbi was a full-interchange of back and forth between teacher and disciple, we see none of that in Luke. Again, even though the listening is more important that the diaconate of table service, it has been reduced to being “preached to” rather than to be educated to preach.

Thus we get the watered down vision that learning the word of God is more important than the normal business of everyday life. This is what is often preached in the pulpits of our churches. This is, I would suggest, superficial and really a misunderstanding of what is going on here. Luke has served to deflate the argument going on about what is “woman’s place” by turning the entire story to one that reflects nothing about the role of women at all, but merely suggests that listening to the word of God is always preferable to doing everyday things. In doing so, we miss the real and very shocking teaching that Jesus actually expressed.

Amen.

 

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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.

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.

Who Am I?

whoamIMuch has been written about the passage in Luke wherein Jesus asks of his disciples: Who do you say that I am? Much will continue to be written about it no doubt. And the writings will be important and informative as they always are.

Who we view Christ as, will continue to be an important question, one that we must answer again and again as we move through this mortal life.

But I hazard the guess that our answer tells us far more. It  informs us significantly who we are. And I suggest that it is just as profitable that we ask this question of ourselves.

Who am I?

To say that Jesus is the Christ is to impart little real information. All believing Christians would say as much, yet one must admit that all believing Christians are not the same. What do we mean by that affirmation? If we mean that Jesus was the one sent by God to save us from ourselves, to provide the gateway to a place called heaven merely by affirming his correct appellation, then it says much about who WE are doesn’t it?

It suggests that our faith journey has been stalled at the most primitive and self-serving. Surely this is not what Jesus meant for us. Surely that is not the meaning of the what Luke records Him as having said:

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Those are powerful words. Worse, they are frightening. We must be willing to lose our lives in order to save it. And the ironic point of this is that while this might seem utterly self-serving, when we actively lose our lives we have lost any sense of saving ourselves at all. We have transcended that earthly way of being.

Losing our lives does not mean literally, it means to recognize and relinquish the daily investment in life that we as humans seem married to. The slogging it out in a world of like-minded individuals, each struggling to “make it” however defined. Each trying to secure their piece of the pie, getting their fair share, working for the “good life”, preparing for retirement, all the mess that we find part of life.

Letting go of that agenda, that mind-set is what is meant. Are you ready to live for others? Are you ready to spend your waking moments engaged in making the world a better place, not compelled by some belief that you are “working out your salvation” but simply motivated by love for humanity?  Are you uninterested in the newest model car, but finding “transportation” sufficient if it gets you where you need to be to help where that is needed? Are you unconcerned about the stock market and the condition of your portfolio on a daily basis, but trust that God will provide and keep your eyes on the tasks at hand?

If this is how you view Jesus as the Christ, then you have and are answering who you are.

It is a common enough question. It is all too often answered with the usual, spouse, parent, professional position response. We are those things surely, but we are something so much more. We are spiritual beings created to relate to our Creator. We are living out a human existence, but when that is over we shall return to our true existence.

If all that be true, then our time here as creature is purposely so. If life can be described by most as short and filled with a  fair amount of pain, then there must be something we are missing when we spend every waking moment worrying and fretting and plotting and scheming to get to some “place” of comfort and happiness. If that is who we are, then we are not in the Kingdom, we are running from it.

Jesus surely did not need to ask the question of Peter. He clearly knew from long hours, weeks and months of living intimately together, exactly what Peter thought of him. No, he asked Peter, as he asks us, in order to force us to confront ourselves and what we have made and are making of this precious time as human.

Who are you?

Amen.

 

Arise!

FAITH-RISE-350-1The readings today focus on victory over death. We are familiar with them both. In 1 Kings, Elijah returns the widow’s son to life. Similarly in Luke, Jesus stops a funeral procession, and returns to life a son to his widowed mother.

In a real sense two lives are saved, for as widows, both women were dependent upon their sons, the sons who would take care of them as soon as they were of an age.

But are these lessons about victory over death in a physical sense?

Surely we know that both of these sons would eventually die, their lives were being lengthened, they were not going to be immortal. So what are we to learn?

We learn of course that God has power that transcends all our physical laws. To us and our scientific understanding, all things that live eventually die. We know of no way to change that. It appears to be the way of life. Yet we know that our Creator must and does control even life itself. And if God does this, then, there must be something beyond our mere lives. If there was nothing else there would be no point in prolonging this life we each live, for in the end is mere dust.

Indeed when we look at the companion reading in Ephesians, it becomes clear. Paul faces and endures a different kind of death–the death of his old way of life. Born as a Pharisee, Paul rose through the ranks to be an exemplary Pharisee, following the traditions of his family and Judaism. He, no doubt, proudly persecuted these upstart Jews lead by Jesus.

Yet, all fell away from him in a moment of revelation. We know the story well, and Paul tells us himself that he was not “taught” this new way of being. He, seemingly instantly, sees. He sees that his entire life has been devoted to the wrong way of being, and he sees the right path. From that moment forward, he becomes an apostle to the Gospel. So sure is he of his new truth, that he feels no necessity to check in with those who had lived, eaten, slept, and walked for three years with Jesus. He needed no check. He literally had been reborn, raised from his own death.

Some in our times refer to the “coming to Christ” as being “reborn”. Indeed baptism is a death to sin and rebirth. But of course we continue to sin, for we are human. And wise followers of Jesus know that this death and rebirth are continuous events in our lives, hopefully occurring again and again as we mature in our discipleship.

The stories of the widows and the return of their sons to life bring us joy, not in the miracles described, but in the hope that we retain from pondering them. God has ultimate power over the very act of death, how much more over our foibles and shortcomings? God can and does call us patiently and with love to renew and reclaim our godliness in Christ.

God is always calling us to arise.

Do we hear?

Do we answer?

Amen.

I remember my childhood when the sunrise,
like my play-fellow, would burst in to my bedside
with its daily surprise of morning;
when the faith in the marvelous bloomed
like fresh flowers in my heart every day,
looking into the face of the world in simple gladness;
when insects, birds and beasts, the common weeds,
grass and the clouds had their fullest value of wonder;
when the patter of rain at night brought dreams
from the fairyland, and mother’s voice in the evening
gave meaning to the stars.

And then I think of death,
and the rise of the curtain
and the new morning
and my life awakened in its fresh surprise of love.**

From Rabindranath Tagore, Crossing

 

Give Them Some Food Yourselves

breadIt is ironic in a sense that one of the greater divides between Catholic and Protestant is over the issue of the Eucharist. Here, Catholics are most literal, taking the “institution of the Eucharist” to be the actual eating of the blood and flesh of Christ, while most Protestants see it as a symbolic act of remembrance.

To be honest, the Protestants are closer to the mark exegetically. While Matthew relates the story of the Last Supper in a “bread = body” fashion, Luke and Paul frame it as a “remembrance”. Quite frankly it should not matter at all, since if we wish to talk about the mystery of Christ’s presence to us as Christians, the how is singularly not important.

What is important is the stage being set. The table was a place where differences were set aside, weapons left at the door, where people were in a sense forced to confront each others as equals–nourishing the body.

The history of table hospitality in the Middle East is well-known. In such a harsh environment, even enemies broke bread together as a means of survival. It was not all equality of course, there were heads of the tables often, and women and children were separated, eating after the men were through. Food was life at its most basic, and Jesus spared no opportunity to connect food and eating with teaching.

When people are chewing, they can listen.

I see the Eucharist as a time when for a few moments my thoughts are utterly aligned with my God. I choose to believe that God comes to me in some precious way through the bread and wine. I do not examine that process for the process doesn’t actually matter. Is this not why we pause, (those of us who do) at the beginning of a meal to silently or otherwise, give praise to God for what we are about to consume?  We have internalized the importance of meal, of table fellowship, even if that fellowship only includes ourselves and the Lord.

When Jesus has been teaching and the disciples urge him to send people away to find something to eat, he teaches an important lesson: give them some food yourselves. In this salient sentence, Jesus draws us together as community, making us each responsible for all, including feeding each other.

For in the feeding of others, we feed ourselves.

When the disciples answer Jesus’ directive, they say what we are wont to say: “Five loaves and two fishes are all we have.

We rebel. We start by turning inward, counting what we have, and finding we don’t have enough to share. We look about as dumb animals. What to do now?

Do with what you have! Amazing things happen when you just start doing, without fretting about how little you have.

Every revolution starts with the desire of one person to take one step in a new direction.

One in five humans is hungry in the world. One in five children in this country doesn’t get enough to eat. Our food banks are stretched to their limits every week. Men and women sit along our roadsides, along our city streets, hungry. Twenty-five percent of our veterans are homeless, living on the streets, unable to work and dependent upon soup kitchens, garbage receptacles, and the largess of passerby’s.

Food is life. All our actions regarding food can be and should be a Eucharistic event for us. The gardening we so love, the shopping and choosing of just the right melon, the careful preparation, presentation, all these are Eucharistic moments. We can treat these times as Holy deliberately and prayerfully, opening our hearts and minds to God’s presence.  Food can continue to teach us.

With each can of soup, we realize that it would feed another. Is it so much to ask that we save aside a few cans a week and once a month deliver them to a pantry? Is it too much to send a monthly check of a few dollars to your local mission or shelter?

And if I may ask you, please, please, when you do such things, hold them in your own heart. Your God knows, and that is all that need know. Only the Pharisees find the need to tell others of their giving. For no matter how much you give, others give more, and others are prevented from giving as much only because they have even less than you claim to have. You shame them, and yourself when you brag of your offerings.

Give them some food yourselves.

Amen.

 

 

And What of Love?

anewI’ve been thinking a lot about Abraham lately.

Specifically the story of Abraham and Isaac. More specifically, about Abraham’s call by God to sacrifice Isaac. The so-called “test.”

I’m as bothered by this as I am about God inflicting Job with all his woes as the object of a wager with Satan.

This is not my God, this God who uses and abuses his very own.

It is one of the reasons why any rational person should rebel at the demand that scripture be taken literally. For the God portrayed in these examples is not a God to love or worship. It is only a God to be ignored at one’s peril.

But of course, most of us aren’t literalists. We see that scripture is the reflection of those who came before us on how they came to recognize and live with this transcendent God. How they came to see their relationship to this all-powerful deity. How they came to enter into the grace of faith and understanding.

As is so often the case with scripture, because surely it is divinely inspired, scripture often informs scripture. We find answers to the deeply agonizing questions offered up by one text in another.

Such is the case today, at least for me. Today John tells us that in those final hours in the life of the Master, he said some amazing things. Among them, he issued his own commandment, a “new” one as he said.

love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.

Go back to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Think about it from the point of view of today. Your neighbor comes to you, a pious woman, one who you know goes to church regularly. You see a worn bible next to her favorite chair in her living room when you visit. She often makes reference to biblical passages in your conversations. She is known for her commitment to acts of charity.  She says to you:

“God spoke to me last night. It was the clearest thing you can imagine. He told me that he wants me to take my dearest child, my youngest, and offer her as a sacrifice to him. Please say goodbye to my darling girl, for you will see her no more.”

What would you do? Well, quite obviously, you would either alert the woman’s husband or call the authorities. In any case, you would do all you could to prevent her from this act. If you learned of the act after it had been done, you would expect the woman to be taken into custody and either held for treatment or otherwise confined. Many would of course dispute her “vision” and claim her either mad or a murderer.

That would be the sane response.

Yet we read the story of Abraham and Isaac as if it all makes perfect sense. In the story, Abraham, known to love Isaac as his long-awaited son by Sarah, makes not a single objection. He offers no mental reservation, no agony of decision whatsoever. Is this even normal?

Of course it is not. And the story is just that, a story. God does not and would not ask such a thing of his creatures. The story illustrates in some crude fashion, how important it is to put God first in one’s life. It suggests that God means more than anything else. God’s desires come first. And it is crude, let’s be clear.

As is often the case with a teaching moment, we go way over the top to make a point. This the writer did. If you think you know what loving God means, well let me tell you what it REALLY means, the writer suggests. It’s hyperbole in its extreme form.

God would never ask such a thing. No rational person would do such a thing. It it meant to instruct us on what it means to love God, and of course to show us how very very short of the mark we really are. We cannot comprehend even how to love God like this.

Yet, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus shows us exactly and perfectly how to love God. He simplifies it for us. Love your neighbor as I have loved you.

AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.

Jesus, in his time with his disciples has shown them again and again the meaning of love. This willingness to think of others first, this willingness to get up when tired, and offer help, this willingness to bear the condemnation of others for the “company you keep”. Jesus showed his disciples that to lead, indeed to love, meant being last, being the servant, making sure that each and every person one encountered was brought into wholeness. Jesus was about to show them ultimately that life itself was worth sacrificing for a principle–not someone else’s life, but his own.

The principle of course was that being true to God in one’s heart, and living that out no matter what the personal sacrifice might entail was the way to bring heaven and earth into an embrace. Jesus answers the dilemma we face in the gruesome story of Abraham and his efforts to commit infanticide.  He shows us what the love that the ancient writer was attempting to define actually is in real and practical terms.

Scripture informs scripture, and forever teaches us that the stories are just that, stories which help us jump into the cloudy waters of our minds, to yet peel away another layer of darkness on the journey to the light.

Amen.

Where Fear Treads

palm_sunday02Have you ever noticed how much fear dominates the final scenes of Jesus’ life? And how the Lord responds to it Himself? It’s quite an object lesson.

We start with the processional into Jerusalem. The people come out in droves, lining the street as he passes, waving palms and placing cloaks across the crude roadway in honor of the great Rabbi that some perhaps have heard preach, and many others by word of mouth have heard of.

The welcome him to Jerusalem. Something exciting seems afoot here.

At the Passover Supper, Jesus tries to explain what is to come. He makes a special point of emphasizing to them how they should remember him.

He disappoints his disciples by telling them they shall not be great lords and masters in the coming kingdom but lowly servants, a thought that distresses and confuses them further. Peter assures the Lord that he is up to the task, he will willingly die for Jesus.

Judas, apparently so overwhelmed by how Jesus is not what he has suspected, fears that all has been for naught, and goes off to betray the very man he has followed for so long. His fear overcomes him, and he reckons his life worth a few pieces of silver. His fear has won.

When they come to arrest Jesus, one of his followers strikes out in anger and fear. He gains a rebuke from Jesus, and an instant healing of the damage done by the sword.

Peter in terror, of course denies the Lord, his fear overcoming him completely. All the other apostles hide in fear.

Arguably the enter proceedings before the Sanhedrin is an illustration of fear, fear of the unknown and fear that this man, this Jesus makes too much sense and is a danger to their authority, but also to their sense of how things should be. If you have lived your life in God a certain way, is it not petrifying to entertain the thought that you have judged things wrong all those years?

Perhaps because they are powerful men with authority, neither Pilate nor Herod seem fearful of Christ. They question him carefully, and find him without criminal intent or plan. Yet the Jewish council continues to demand his death, and having aroused the crowds, they take up the chant, “Crucify HIM.”

For now fear has entered the population in general, and those who formerly welcomed Jesus with palms and obeisance, have been converted into an unruly mob that is operating from fear. This one they welcomed has been arrested! His followers are in denial or hiding. Will they be arrested as well for seeming to welcome this now “so-called” Messiah? They are offered his release, but their fear condemns them to call for the release of Barabbas. Barabbas seems the safer of the two to them.  Call for the pardon of Jesus, and they too may find themselves in chains.

Jesus is paraded through the streets and people watch. They follow silently to Golgotha, where the crucifixion takes place. AND THE PEOPLE STOOD BY AND WATCHED.

And he died, and the curtain in the temple was rent, and the sun was eclipsed, and these same watchers now beat their breasts in lament. Fear now renewed.

Jesus throughout is the model of courage. He shows us how to behave in the face of terror, for certainly what lay before him as he entered Jerusalem was clear and frightful. He prayed to God that he be released from what lay ahead, but acknowledged that he was prepared to do as God wished, not as he might.

He stood in the face of unbelief and affront without blinking, without trembling, without fear. He answered calmly and then became silent for he knew that nothing he could say would change the outcome. It was his destiny and always had been. He bore his pain silently, and even on the cross cared more about others than himself.

Fear is the enemy. It always has been. Evil entered this world when the first human acted out of fear and denied help to his brother, but thought first of himself. “I have enough for me, but not for both of us” and he turned his hand against his brother and sent him away to death in order to save his own.

Fear has been our companion throughout human existence. Fear drives us to make decisions that appear right, but are usually not. It causes us to forsake exactly what we have claimed. Peter is the seminal example of what fear does to even the best of us. It is an object lesson.

No matter what the situation, we must turn away from fear and enter into the light that is Jesus. Bathed in that glowing presence, we can breathe freely, think clearly, and make the choice that God would always have us make–the choice that brings forth the kingdom in glory and love.

It is time to enter Jerusalem. It is time to face our fears. It is time to grasp the hand of our Lord, take a breath, and renew ourselves in the loving embrace of our God.

Amen.

How To Screw Up the Meaning

 

 

Today’s readings are pretty darn straight forward. In Numbers (11:25-29) Moses is informed that a couple of elders are prophesying in his name although they were not in the tent with the other elders who were commissioned by God.

In Mark,  (9: 38-43) Jesus is similarly informed that someone is casting out demons in his name.

In both cases, the expectation is that this unauthorized behavior should be stopped immediately. In neither case is this done. Instead, both tell their followers that if they are doing the right thing, let them continue.

This should teach us that everyone doesn’t have to be “like us” to do good in the world. We should honor the good period. This should give us renewed hope and dedication to trying, where ever we can, points of agreement with those we are at odds with, and cooperating on at least those issues where we find  that agreement.

And indeed, our priest this morning made the first point. God teaches us that “not only Catholics” but Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and even non-believers can do good things. Gosh I never would have guessed!

He then went on to run off the tracks. “Please don’t get the wrong idea here. Jesus was no relativist. He wasn’t saying all faiths are equal like so many say today.”

He then went off on a tangent based on the rest of Mark’s gospel reading:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

Then, he (the priest) explained that such sin as depicted here must be serious sin. He decided it must have to do with  alcohol and drug abuse, pornography, adultery, and things such as this. He then went on to explain that we must be always on guard against such “personal” sin, and protect our eternal souls against these persistent pernicious sins.

Alas, the priest forgot entirely the other reading: James.

James clearly speaks to the wealthy of his time:

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.

Since Jesus in his remarks in Mark makes no statement of what things should cause us to “pluck out our eye”, then perhaps there is a reason that James discourse is part of the liturgy to be read with Mark’s gospel.

James makes no bones about it. The rich, who live in splendor while withholding wages from those who work them are the ones who will be devoured in the fires that Jesus refers to as Gehenna.

This is not a new concept, and it is one that Jesus repeatedly referred to. His “preferential option” for the poor, God’s preferential option, causes that to be the great sin we must guard against. Jesus warns–don’t cause these “little ones” to sin (children were the least in the world and are synonymous with the poor). One causes them to sin by setting as an example a life of wealth and privilege all the while ignoring the plight of those less fortunate. It is teaching this capitalistic winner-take-all, survival of the fittest, to the victor belong the spoils, kind of mentality that places one in dire circumstances at judgment day.

These readings are about cooperation, love, caring, compassion, brotherhood and sisterhood. They are uplifting and guiding. They are not some self-centered directive to beware of serious sin for our own good, although our own good may well be in the balance. They help us to look outward rather than inward.

Amen.

 

 

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