Jesus at home?

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.

how to approach the Bible

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.

excommunicating ourselves

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:

quoteGod 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.

a good reminder

quoteI take the Bible too seriously to take it all literally.
—Madeleine L’Engle, A Stone for a Pillow, p. 80

how many commandments?

I have known this for a long while, but I saw an interesting article that did a nice job of clarifying the topic.

The ten commandments appear in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but in neither place is there any reference to this being a list of commandments, nor to there being ten. In fact, the Jewish community talks about the “ten statements.” And if you break the passages down you can work it out to twelve statements.

So how do we get to ten?

  • For the Jews, “I am the Lord your God” is a separate statement, while Christians combine that with “You shall have no other gods before me.”
  • For Jews and Catholics, not worshipping other Gods and not making graven images are combined into a single statement, while for Protestants and Eastern Orthodox, it’s two.
  • Coveting another’s wife and property is one statement for Jews, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox, while it’s two for Catholics.

The Bible is not as specific, cut, and dried as some people would like to believe.

Seeing Jesus as…

The Gospel lectionary reading for last Sunday was Luke 20:27-38. It is the story of the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, challenging Jesus on the law of Levirate marriage. To quote Father Phil, “If a married man died without children, his brother was obligated to marry the widow to have a child that would be designated as his dead brother’s offspring.” The Sadducees asked if a woman’s husband died and left her childless, as did his six brothers, who would be her husband at the resurrection? You know the story. Jesus responds that at the resurrection people neither marry nor are given in marriage. But I love the context Father Phil provides. He says,

The Sadducees are presented as sort of Harvard trained lawyers who are going to take this Matlock-like country bumpkin rabbi Jesus to the intellectual woodshed.

I told Fr. Phil after the service that I had never heard Jesus compared to Matlock before. He agreed that it might be a first.

It reminds me, though, that we do see Jesus through our own lens.

I believe it was one of the Great Courses lectures I was listening to, and I believe that the lecturer was taking a shot at the members of the Jesus Seminar, saying that there were those who viewed Jesus as the witty university faculty lounge lizard colleague.

So if that, why not Jesus as an Andy Griffith-type character? Probably not Peter Falk/Columbo. But, yes, perhaps Andy Griffith/Matlock.

We do create Jesus in our own image.

our bishop

A week ago Sunday we had a visitation from our bishop at St. John the Divine.

GrayReevesMary_OfficialBishop Mary Gray-Reeves is a powerful woman. She is tall, slender, and regal. When I see her in her vestments there is no question that she belongs in that office. Having done my renewal of vows when I joined St. John’s two years ago about this time I know that she has the power of the Spirit in her. She is always gracious when greeting me and she is great with the children. You might think that children would be put off by someone so powerful, but in fact they love being around her. Her sermons always have something of substance to deliver, and she is magnificent with the liturgy. Her crystal clear voice is almost other-worldly when she sings the Eucharistic prayer.

I always seem to learn something new when I hear her preach. The Sunday of her visit the Gospel reading was Luke 17:11-19, which is the Healing of the Ten Lepers. You likely know the story. Jesus heals the ten lepers and tells them to go show themselves to the priests, which they hasten to do. One however, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” The next sentence often seems to get overlooked. “And he was a Samaritan.” Bishop Mary pointed out that as a Samaritan he would not have been allowed into the temple to show himself to the priests. Oh, yeah. Right. So he did the only thing he could do, which was to return and thank Jesus.

Thank you Bishop Mary for that.

a way of looking at the Bible

A week ago Sunday, 8 September, was Pentecost 16, Proper 18 and the gospel reading was Luke 14:25-33, which includes some harsh language:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

BibleFr. Phil had an interesting take on this. He reminded us that the gospels were written in a time of tumult, when the followers of Jesus were being thrown out of the synagogues. The readers of the gospel of Luke and the other gospels were under a lot of stress and no doubt confused. He suggested:

So how are you and I going to read these hard words attributed to Jesus?  We can read them as intended for one specific circumstance in history; some things do not bear to be repeated.  Some words never need to be applicable again.  All of the Bible does not have to have future application; many of the words can simply remain the historical record of a single event in the history of a particular group of people.

That can relieve a lot of stress for us today, ya know?

standing in awe of God

westernreligiousexperienceThe Significance of Religious Experience
Howard Wettstein
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
List price $65.00 Amazon Price $41.49

I read a review of this book in Books and Culture and it sounds like fascinating reading. But take a look at the price in relation to the page count, and the fact that it is not available in Kindle format. Guess I’ll have to pass.

Here, however, is the reviewer’s summary of the essence of the book. Looks to me like material for considerable further thought and reflection:

The Bible is not a list of God’s qualities we must believe; it is a collection of narratives about God’s roles that helps us to live in awe of God. Liturgies are not a telescope by which our gaze can escape the world and see only heaven. Rather, the prayers and stories of the Bible are the means of standing in awe of God, fostering love for neighbors, and practicing gratitude.

Emmaus in Summer

“Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens.”
— John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography

I have written much about Emmaus, though I normally reserve my comments for Easter. However, as I’ve mentioned, I have been taking the online course Soelle in Summer focusing on the work of Dorothee Soelle and facilitated by the marvelous Jane Redmont. Jane posted a poem by Soelle on Emmaus, which I reproduce below. It triggered a strong response from me, as the Emmaus story usually does. Here are the comments I made on the post, slightly edited.

EmmausThe Emmaus story touches and moves me at more levels and in more ways than any other passage in the Bible. I have blogged about it many times. I’m always disappointed that it shows up in the Lectionary for Sunday morning only once in the 3-year cycle (Year A – Matthew, which is odd). Yes, I know it’s there for Easter evening every year.

So I was struck by Soelle’s taking that passage and interweaving it with images of social justice denied, and then suggesting that Cleopas and companion (probably his wife) were walking away from the “city of their hope” to where, as we might say today, the grass is (or rather, seems) greener. Yet they turn back to Jerusalem, their “city of their hope” when the meet the Christ.


I need to come back to this poem and spend some more time with it.

Here is the poem:

Song on the road to emmaus

So long we have been walking
away from the city of our hope
to a village where life is said to be better

   Hadn’t we thought
   we could overcome fear
   the fear of the old pieceworker
   that she’ll have to take sick leave
   the fear of the turkish girl
   that she’ll be deported
   the fear of the haunted neurotic
   that he’ll be committed

So long we have been walking
in the same wrong direction
away from the city of our hope
to the village where there’s supposed to be water

   Hadn’t we thought
   we were free and could liberate
   all those poor devils
   the working man’s child held back and punished
   in school
   the adolescent on his motorbike
   sent to the wrong work
   for life
   the deaf and dumb
   in the wrong country
   at the wrong time
   silenced by working
   a lifetime
   for bread alone

So long we have been walking
in the same direction
away from the city
where our hope is still buried

   Then we met someone
   who shared his bread with us
   who showed us the new water
   here in the city of our hope
   I am the water
   you are the water
   he is the water
   she is the water

Then we turned around and went
back to the city of our buried hope
up to jerusalem

   He who brought water is with us
   he who brought bread is with us
   we shall find the water
   we shall be the water

   I am the water of life
   you are the water of life
   we are the water of life
   we shall find the water
   we shall be the water

Dorothee Soelle
Revolutionary Patience (Orbis, 1977)
pp. 46-48