Yesterday’s Gospel lectionary reading was the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, Luke 1:39-45. When we read in Luke about that journey we don’t think much about it.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Tradition says that that Mary and Elizabeth were somehow related, perhaps cousins. But as Pastor Kathleen pointed out yesterday morning, this was an extraordinary, probably unheard of, journey. First, Mary was likely a teenager. Luke 2 tells us that Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem for the census. So Mary must have been in Nazareth with her husband Joseph when she set out. As the quote above tells us, Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in the hill country of Judea, outside of Jerusalem, in the South of the former united kingdom of Israel. Remember that Galilee is in the North, in the region then still known as Israel. That would have been quite the journey for Mary. Fifty miles at least, Kathleen said. And as she pointed out, not only did Mary not have a driver’s license, but there weren’t any cars then anyway.
So why, Kathleen asks, after hearing from the angel the news that she we would be giving birth to the Messiah, would Mary have made such a journey when she no doubt had relatives in Galilee to whom she could talk, and probably a BFF or two there as well. Kathleen suggests that Mary wanted to talk to someone who would “get it.” The much older Elizabeth conceived in a miraculous manner as did the young Mary. Elizabeth would get it.
Kathleen went on to say that we all need someone to talk to in our lives who will get it. I’m fortunate to have people in my life I can talk to who will get it. My wife Terry, certainly. Definitely my spiritual director. My brother and sister-in-law for certain things and my dad for others.
I hope you have that person or those people in your life as well.
When we start the new liturgical year with Advent, I am always a couple of weeks behind in realizing that we are moving from one year to the next in the three-year lectionary cycle. It hit me just last week that we have finished Year B, the year of Mark, with its brevity and Jesus in conflict with the authorities, and we have now moved on to year C, the year of Luke.
I like Year C. I like Luke. Luke has little of the harshness of Matthew, and overflows with compassion. Jesus is always having a meal with someone, somewhere.
Luke contains the Song of Simeon and the passage in which he tells the criminal, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke contains the Emmaus Road story, even if we don’t get it in our Year C lectionary readings.
I’m happy to be in Year C.
I have been privileged to stay in touch with Terry and Debbie, the children of my first wife Ruth, after her death in 1989. As it turns out, both are here in Southern California these days. Terry is in Los Angeles with his wife and children. Debbie is in San Diego and just got married. We were honored to be invited to the wedding.
The invitation said the dress was “garden party formal.” I wasn’t sure exactly that was. And that was one of those times when the gears in my mind did not mesh. Rather than googling it, I guessed. I thought that a guayabera, a formal business shirt used throughout South America, Cuba, and the Caribbean would be suitable. After all, I read, it was also known as a Cuban wedding shirt. So I ordered one from Amazon.
When we got there I saw that almost all of all the men were wearing ties and jackets. Had I simply done a search on “garden party formal,” as I did after the fact, I would have found what I should have worn, and discovered that I had everything I needed and that there was no reason to buy a new shirt.
All I could think about was the passage about the wedding garment in the parable of the wedding banquet, a passage found only in Matthew.
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Fortunately, this was a Jewish wedding, so I suppose the tenets of New Testament parables didn’t apply. Lucky for me.
It was a marvelous wedding. The ceremony was heartfelt. Debbie was beautiful and very, very happy. Clearly she has found the right person.
Terry (my wife Terry) and I are delighted to have been there.
The Forward Day-by-Day meditation for last Tuesday was about the story of the paralyzed man being let down through the roof of the house in front of Jesus as related in Mark 2:1-12. In particular, the writer of the meditation focused on Mark 2:1: “When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.”
Wait! What? Jesus at home? How had I never noticed that before?
In a way I guess it’s not surprising. The Revised Common lectionary assigns this passage to Epiphany 7 in Year B. Unless Easter is on the late side we don’t get as far as Epiphany 7 in many years. This year (which happens to be Year B) we only got as far as Epiphany 5 before moving on to the The Last Sunday after Epiphany and the story of the Transfiguration.
Nor would it help to encounter this story as part of the lectionary cycle in Matthew or Luke. Matthew simply says that Jesus “came to his own town.” Luke doesn’t say where Jesus was when this happened.
Given the three-year cycle, one could go quite a few years before the reference to Jesus at home came up in a Sunday sermon.
I am guessing that this is probably the only reference to Jesus being at home in the gospels, at least for Jesus during his ministry, putting aside the infancy and youth narratives in Matthew and Luke.
I’m still thinking about what to make of the idea of the itinerant Jesus at home.
My rector is brilliant.
The Old Testament lectionary a week ago Sunday had some troubling language from the book of 1 Samuel: “The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul…”
In her sermon she asked if anyone had a favorite recipe from their grandmother. She turned to a pair of sisters who had raised their hands and asked what their favorite recipe was from their grandmother. They responded that it was salmon patties. Pastor Kathleen said, “I bet the recipe contains bread crumbs, right?” The sisters said that it did. Pastor Kathleen said, “Now if you go to the store and buy a box breadcrumbs then take it home and start eating the breadcrumbs straight out of the box, that’s not the same as eating a salmon patty, is it?”
That, she said, is what it’s like to base your understanding of the Bible on a single verse. People do it, she told us, but it doesn’t work.
As I said, brilliant.
Sunday’s Gospel lectionary reading was the story about the king who sends out invitations to a wedding banquet for his son. Everyone has more important things to do so they don’t bother to show up. The king has them all killed and their towns burned, and then has his servants go “into the main streets, and invite everyone [they] find to the wedding banquet.” When the king finds one guest not dressed in the appropriate attire he tells his servants to “bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
That’s Matthew. Matthew 22:1-14, to be exact. I have issues with Matthew. You’ve seen me complain about the harshness of many passages in Matthew before. But, still, the text is there, so how do we deal with this passage?
As for the first part, suffice it to say that in the ancient Near East blowing off a king when invited to a wedding banquet is probably not an effective survival strategy. The end of the passage is more troubling to me, but we can make sense of it. Bishop Mary made the point three years ago when she preached during her visitation when I reaffirmed my baptismal vows and officially became part of St. John the Divine. Fr. Phil made the same point Sunday. At weddings in that culture and time the host handed out wedding garments to all of the guests. So this fellow obviously walked right past the guy handing out the wedding garments. Not wise.
We excommunicate ourselves. Fr. Phil said:
God does not excommunicate people from the divine kingdom; God can’t because it would mean that something would exist outside of God. Only members of God’s creation can live in the illusion that they don’t live within God’s kingdom and hereby excommunicate themselves from God’s great world.
The irony is that I nearly excommunicated myself, at least for one day, on Sunday. I looked at the server schedule and saw the names of the two sisters signed up for acolytes. That meant that their dad would be there using his smart phone to video tape his daughters during the opening procession. That always annoys the heck out of me. Dammit Jim, this is a worship service, not a Christmas pageant! I almost skipped church that day. In the end, the privilege of receiving the Bread and Wine outweighed the dad’s annoying, not disruptive I remind myself, but simply annoying, behavior.
Oh, and one other thing. Fr. Phil pointed out that the reason wedding garments were handed out was “to insure that all of the guests had the appearance of equal standing at the party. The wedding garments were like a uniform of equality indicating that all guests had equal standing in the eyes of the host.”
I don’t think I need to explain the obvious in terms of what that says about God’s relationship to me versus God’s relationship to that dad. Enough said.
I take the Bible too seriously to take it all literally.
—Madeleine L’Engle, A Stone for a Pillow, p. 80