Thursday, March 29, 2012
My forsthia bushes have been going strong for about a week now. They seem to glow from within.
I'm starting to meditate on St. Mark's account of the Passion of Jesus. I am intrigued by two verses that appear only in Mark and seem superfluous. After Jesus has been seized by his enemies in the garden and all of his disciples have "deserted him and fled," Mark says, "A certain young man was following him, naked except for a linen cloth. They seized him, but he left behind the linen cloth, and naked he fled." (14;51-52)
Throughout his Gospel Mark shows the disciples as pretty dim. They simply don't get it. They consistently misunderstand Jesus and here at the end they run away. It's as if this young man thinks that he's not like them. He sticks around. But when push comes to shove, he is so eager to get away that he wiggles out of what little he has on and runs off. I sort of admire him for giving it an extra try and feel sad that he so desperately gives up.
Ray Brown asks "Why is the absolute failure of the disciples Good News?" and he answers, "The mystery of Mark's Gospel is that God succeeds and accomplishes his purpose amidst human failure." That's Good News for those of us who fail so often.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
March 25, 1634, 17 English gentlemen, mostly Catholic, about 200 laborers and servants, mostly Protestant, and 3 Jesuits landed on St. Clement Island to begin the settlement of a new colony to be called Maryland. They established religious freedom and separation of church and state. On April 21, 1649, this policy became law, the Act Concerning Religion, the first legislative grant of religious toleration in the New World.
In 1689 the Church of England had gained enough power to pass harsh penal laws against Catholics. They were not allowed to hold office. Worship was restricted to private residences. Soon they were made to pay a double tax and lost the right to vote. In 55 years they had lost the religious freedom that had been their dream.
Those who complain about the "lack of religious freedom" in our country today cheapen the meaning of the phrase.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Thursday, March 22, 2012
This sculpture is on Mount Nebo from which Moses saw the Promised Land before he died. It represents the Cross as well as the bronze serpent that Moses raised up on a pole in the desert to save those bitten by poisonous serpents.
In John 3;14 Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." In John "eternal life" starts here and now and lasts into eternity.
In John 8:28 Jesus says to the Jewish religious leaders, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will relaize that I AM." These "I AM" sayings of Jesus are spread throughout John's Gospel. It is God's proper name that God gave Moses from the burning bush. Jesus' repeated use of this in the Gospel is his clearest claim to be God.
In John 12:32 Jesus tells the crowd, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." The Greek word used for "lifted up" in these three verses also means "exalted." The lifting up of Jesus on the Cross continues in his exaltation as he rises and ascends to the Father. Every human being is drawn into this "lifting up." The image I find helpful is that of a whirlwind that sweeps up the entire human race with Jesus into the Father. All that is required of us is to let go.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
At the wedding feast of Cana, when Mary tells Jesus that the host has run out of wine, he says to her, "My hour has not yet come." He repeats this several more times in the first half of the Gospel. Finally in 12:23 he says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
In the past I had read those words as a kind of non-response to what had preceded. Some Greeks have come to Philip and asked to see Jesus. Two commentaries I used for meditation and prayer this week helped me to see a connection that I had never noticed before. The arrival of the Greeks confirms the Pharisees' frustrated words in verse 19, "The whole world has gone after him."
This, in turn, points back to a line much earlier in the Gospel in which the Samaritans tell the woman at the well, "We know that this is truly the Savior of the world." (4:42)
Not just his mother and some guests at a wedding, but the whole world represented by these Greeks, now bring Jesus to declare that the hour has come for his death and resurrection, the "hour of his glory."
When we hear only a brief bit of the Gospel read on a Sunday, it's hard to make the connections that the author of the Gospel intended.
Monday, March 19, 2012
We are having a series of very warm days, extraordinary for these mountains this early in the year. Forsythia is the first plant to bloom in my yard, but it's not completely out yet. These branches are close to the ground. I guess that gave them the courage to blossom. I like this picture of new life bright against the dead leaves. Without the apparent death of winter there would be no new life of springtime.
John 12:23-28 is my favorite passage for a funeral. It is part of this Sunday's Gospel reading. John does not have the scene of Jesus' agony in the garden the night before he dies, that the other three Gospels have. I get some sense of a similar struggle in this passage in John.
Jesus knows that the time is drawing near for his death and tries to make some sense of it for himself as well as for his followers. He says, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." Jesus must die before he can rise to new life. Somehow death holds within it the seeds of new life.
The dying and rising of Jesus makes it possible for each person to go through death into new life. It also helps me to think how the little deaths that I face all through my life give way to a richer life. It seems that there can be no joy without sadness, no full life without suffering.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
I wanted to make sure I got in here this quote from St. Augustine that I read on my vacation in Falling Upward:a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life:
"You were within, but I was without.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
So you called, you shouted,
you broke through my deafness,
you flared, blazed,
and banished my blindness,
you lavished your fragance,
and I gasped."
Saturday, March 17, 2012
I was in my mid-thirties before I knew that we had some of St. Patrick's own writings, The Confession of St. Patrick and Letter to Soldiers of Croticus.
Patrick begins the former: "I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unschooled and least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many." His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest (this is way before celibacy was required.) They lived on the coast of Briton. When Patrick was about 16, Pirates kidnapped him and sold him into slavery in Ireland. He describes his time there:
"Every day I was forced to tend flocks of sheep in the pasture. The love of God and the awe of Him grew strong within me more and more, and my faith was strengthened also. And my soul was restless within me so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when I was staying in the woods or on the mountainside. I often awakened and prayer before daylight--through snow, through frost, through rain--and I felt no illness or discomfort, and I was never lazy but filled with energy and inspiration. Now I know this was because the Holy Spirit was glowing within me."
By his own account Patrick had not been a devout boy at home, but this time alone in the hills brought him to God. His slavery changed his heart.
Friday, March 16, 2012
"We are God's work of art," is the delightful way that the Jerusalem Bible translates Ephesians 2:10. Another translation has "God's masterpiece." The original Greek has "God's product."
I think Ephesians 2:4-10 are the clearest explanation of what St. Paul means by grace. For many years I have used this passage with people who are trying to understnd what total dependence on God means. Twice in these seven verses Paul says, "It is through grace that you have been saved." The first time he says it, he is so eager to get it out that he interjects it right in the middle of another sentence (a nightmare for lectors). Grace means gift, something freely given. "This is not your own doing," says Paul, "it is the gift of God."
We were helplessly "dead in sin." It was "because of the great love God had for us that God raised us up with Christ." God always takes the initiative. "Merit" was a big word in the Catholicism in which I grew up. It took me many years to realize that if God waited for me to merit it, I would never be in relationship with God.
In verse 10 Paul shows how this unearned relationship spills over into good works, "We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus, to devote outselves to the good deeds for which God has designed us."
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Yesterday was as perfect a day as March has ever given us here on the Lake. Temperature about 70, complete sunshine, a breeze during the afternoon. As sunset approached the breeze quit and the Lake became still. I sat down by the water for a long time and then stood at the edge of the Lake so I could see the sun beginning to set. Finally I decided to come in and get the camera to try to capture the peacefulness that settled on everything, especially the water.
Days like this make me so grateful for being able to retire to this place. Two walks earlier in the day and time spent eating and reading and dozing in the sun. All of it shot through with God's presence. Beauty almost unbearable.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
John 3:16 is everywhere, even under Tim Tebow's eyes. I don't pay much attention to football, but I have heard that much. I see the verse so much it's easy to forget what a great verse it is. "Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave the only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life."
In most of John's Gospel it is the disciples whom God loves. It is unusual to see "God loved the world." The Greek word is "cosmos." In the very next verse we hear "that the world might be saved through him (Jesus.)"
God loves everyone and everything. The form of the Greek verb indicates a supreme act of love that continues. God gives the only Son by sending him to become human and even further by sending him to die on the cross. The previous verse refers to Jesus' being lifted up in his dying and rising. God's entirely unearned love that animates this whole movement out of God and back into God catches up into the sweep anyone who believes in God's love.
I think a view like this one from our vacation home could bring someone who has never heard the Gospel to believe in God and in God's gracious love.
Friday, March 9, 2012
The wall is all that is left of the Jerusalem Temple (the golden dome beyond is a Moslem shrine.) The Romans destroyed it in the year 70. In John's Gospel, written about 30 years later, Jesus offers his own body as the new temple where we can worship God (2:13-25).
In the obvious sense of the story, Jesus is angry at the merchants for doing business in the temple court. In John's Gospel almost everything is a sign of something else. At a deeper level of meaning, Jesus is also attacking temple worship itself. Animal sacrifice was part of the worship. It was almost necessary for the people to buy the animals for sacrifice at the site rather than to bring animals with them from wherever they were travelling. By driving those selling them out of the temple Jesus is making the sacrifices impossible.
From the perspective of John's Gospel the sacrifices were no longer possible since the temple had been destroyed 30 years earlier. So when John's readers, most of them Jews, hear Jesus say, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it," they would hear the Risen Jesus offering himself as the way for his people to offer themselves to God in worship.
The notion of being in Jesus would have been familiar to John's community. At the Last Supper in John's Gospel we hear Jesus say that he is the vine and we are the branches. John's community would probably also be familiar with St. Paul's image of the Body of Christ and we the members. It is in and through Jesus that we go to God.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
This is the view from Mount Nebo in the country of Jordan, looking towards the River Jordan and beyond to Israel/Palestine. Our tour group had come from the River, 1200 feet below sea level, to the Mountain, 2600 feet above sea level. From Mount Nebo God showed Moses the land of Canaan, and here Moses died before he could lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. (I hope Moses had a clearer day that we did.)
It had been on another mountain, Sinai, that God had given Moses the Ten Commandments.
On a recent trip in the car I was listening to an excellent set of CD's on the history of religion in America. In the section on a virulent anti-Catholic period, I was taken up short by this antidote. In New York City in 1859 an Irish Catholic boy in a public school refused to recite the King James Version of the Ten Commandments. The teacher beat him over his hands until they bled and forced him to recite them. His parents sued the teacher for cruelty in the civil courts and lost. They were told that the teacher had the right to uphold the teaching of the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments in school. How ironic that now we sue over whether they can be displayed in a public place.
What also struck me about the incident was that there was a significant enough difference between the Protestant and Catholic version that the boy would know about it.
The difference is not only in the translation itself but in the numbering. If I ever knew this, I had forgotten. So I went looking. While everyone has just Ten Commandments, they are counted differently by different Jewish groups, as well as different Christian groups. The King James Version follows a Jewish way of counting them that splits what Catholics consider the first commandment into two and then combines into one what Catholics consider the ninth and tenth.
So even if we were to display the Ten Commandments now, I guess we would have a fight among Jews, Protestants, and Catholics about which version to display.