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Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
Those of you who sat through the long explanation of ancient Greek and Aramaic on last Sunday’s lesson will be relieved that today’s text is just about the same in every ancient text and translation, so, in this case, there’s not much textual word study that’s of interest.
The phrase, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand?” was likely a common aphorism used in Jesus’ day. We are told that Jesus, like other rabbis, used well known sayings, like all of us, in their conversations and teachings. Used often enough, the gist of these sayings became what the people remembered best about Jesus’ words.
In fact, this saying is found several times in the gospels and that gives us an opportunity to observe how the gospel writers, and Jesus, used common metaphors in different contexts, often relating them to completely different situations.
The literal point of this saying is that light is not meant to be hidden. The very nature of light; what light is; the character of light; disappears if it is covered up. You might as well blow out the lamp. Why bother lighting a lamp if you’re going to cover it with a basket or putting it under the bed? (Not to mention the fire danger that I always envision in either case if you’ve got an open flame!)
Because The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the Gospels, written, says Eusibeus, by someone who accompanied Peter on his missionary journey during the middle of the first century, we may be able to assume that Mark’s context for this saying could relate more directly to the context in which Jesus may have actually used it.
In Mark, this sayings comes following an interpretation of the Parable of the Sower. Mark’s believed that the parable was all about understanding and mystery. The author reminds us that some will look and not see and some will listen and not hear, and some may even have to turn around and come back later when they’ve figured it out.
This parable says that sometimes Satan takes away understanding, sometimes understanding does not take root and therefore disappears when trouble arises, and sometimes the cares and temptations of the world choke out the understanding. But, even so, in the end, some understanding always grows, a little or a lot.
The author may have remembered that Jesus also said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the basket, and not on the lampstand?” Does it make any more sense to hide understanding than it makes to cover light? Just as light is meant to shine and illuminate objects, understanding is meant to shine and reveal greater understanding, truth, and wisdom.
Mark expands upon his use of this saying, by adding, “For there isn’t anything hidden that will never be revealed and neither is anything concealed that isn’t (already) becoming apparent.” The Jesus Seminary folks call this verse “muddled” by the author in an attempt to make it somehow relate to a lamp hiding under a bushel, but basically, it sounds as if Mark wants his readers to know that understanding will not and cannot be contained; that hiding understanding is as counter-productive as hiding light.
The Gospels According to Matthew and Luke contain most of Mark’s gospel and material each author added from other sources, but often in different order and in different contexts. In Matthew’s gospel, this saying follows the teaching of the Beatitudes and is combined with a paraphrase of the salt metaphor.
Jesus had just told the crowds that those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake, were those who were blessed in God’s new community. Jesus was referring to those in the crowd around him.
Jesus said, “You are blessed!” He said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored?” And he said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket but on the lamp stand and it gives light to all in the house.”
Some have suggested that the image of a light on a hill was aimed at the disciples as a gathered community, not as individuals, and used by the author of Matthew to speak directly to the developing early church.
Matthew’s gospel was definitely written after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple. The sacrificial system of the temple had been the only way the Jews could fulfill their obligations to God. So “Rabbinic Judaism” adapted quickly shifting the focus of Judaism toward prayer both at home and at synagogue. Prayer became the “temple” for the Jews from that point on and their means of maintaining their covenant with God.
Matthew’s gospel is written to a minority with that Jewish community who may have been wondering if they could hold on to their fledgling Christian experience in the midst of this reformation. This lesson from Matthew’s gospel reminded them that Jesus called those who followed him light for the world, like a city built on the top of a hill.
Why would Jesus have used such high praise for the crowds that followed him? “Light for the World?” Hardly! They were peasant farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, women and children! These were people that Jesus had also described as poor in Spirit, mournful, meek, merciful, justice seekers, peacemakers, and martyrs. How could they possibly be compared to a city built on the top of a hill?
Question: What was it about these people that brought Jesus to consider them “Blessed” and “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world?”
Perhaps they were “blessed” because they were already living within God’s new community. Perhaps they were “salt” because they could temper the flames of passion with compassion and love. Perhaps they were “light” because they were already filled with the understanding of unconditional love and compassion.
The Gospel of Luke uses this saying twice in its story of Jesus. It is used, first of all, in exactly the same context that the Gospel of Mark uses it. But a few chapters later in Luke, we find this saying used again after Jesus says that those who are blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it. This time the author says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in the cellar, but on the lamp stand so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness.”
“If your eye is healthy…” Others translate the Greek here as “If your eye is single, meaning simple, sincere, clear, or sound. Hal Taussig’s New New Testament translates the word as unclouded. Again the lamp of wisdom is that which helps us judge what is wise; that which helps us perceive and understand.
Even today we experience how you can look into the eyes of a person to see what is going on inside of them. Quite often, we can see in someone’s eyes, their character, their love, their anger, or their fears.
Luke uses the common metaphor of light and darkness meaning good and evil. You can use the eyes as a lamp to help you see the light or darkness, goodness or evil; love or hatred within a person.
For Luke, the whole body becomes a lamp when it becomes filled with light, instead of darkness, through eyes that are not clouded. When we “see,” clearly that we are to live with love and compassion, our whole being becomes filled with love and compassion.
The Prophet Isaiah’s words had instructed Rabbi Jesus, “your light has come and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. . . Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Perhaps “the light that had come” was also to be equated with faith, as a part of understanding?
We often tell ourselves that faith is a private matter; that my faith in God and how that faith affects my life is my business and nobody else’s. Perhaps that is true in the sense of “freedom to worship and believe as we choose,” but the temptation is to think that our faith should therefore be kept to ourselves.
We are tempted to think that setting our understanding of God, our values and moral wisdom; our light, upon a hill for all to see, is somehow not appropriate. Setting our light on a hill; taking our light out from under the bed, seems too much like evangelism and that, for some Christians, is dangerous business.
So why might the Gospel writers or Jesus have used this saying so much? “Light is not meant to be hidden under a bushel!” The Gospel writers may have been very much involved with evangelism; with calling others to follow Christ. But was Jesus evangelistic? Perhaps, for Rabbi Jesus, understanding love and grace and justice was not necessarily specific to one faith tradition. (The Samaritan Parable which comes up in a few weeks, also speaks to this!)
Perhaps which religious system we follow is and should be a private matter, but the light of our understanding is not meant to be kept to ourselves. We can be a Christian and believe in the Good News, but if we hide all of what that Good News has led us to understand; if we keep that light hidden away at home, or worse yet in our own private closet at home, how will that help build God’s new community of peace and justice?
A light in a closet can’t shine very far. But a light on a lamp stand or many lights standing on a hilltop together can shine a long way. How do we do that? Nancy and Ross do that when they support legislative work that builds the kingdom. Kate and her crew do that when they takes meals to the Clark Center. Susie and Carl do that when they care for the elderly at the Senior Center. We shine when we put our understanding into action.
And it’s even more than what we do, but how we do it and what words we are willing to speak about why we do it that really makes a difference. If we understand that all people are loved by God and are equally worthy of our love and care, then we show that through our actions, but we also need to speak out about that understanding, which is difficult to do. Many in our circles of family and friends do not want to hear that all people are equally worthy and deserving. Such talk can bring up all sorts of conflict and discouraging prejudices and perceived exceptions.
Self-consciousness, timidity, and other fears will often tempt us toward a lack of confidence; often tempt us to hide our light under a bushel. Jesus calls us be salt of the earth; to temper passion with compassion as we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others. And Jesus calls us to be light for the world; to let the light of our understanding; our love and justice shine out and over and upon a hurting world!
Posted 1 week, 3 days ago. Add a comment
Mark 9: 42-50
Numbers 18:8-10, 19
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
Have you set up the barbeque yet? June weather may be a bit “ify” for barbecuing around here, but those long summer days of cooking over fire in the backyard are almost here. Barbecuing is a real passion for some people and like everything else there are endless barbecuing sites online now to help you master your skills.
An article in Time Magazine entitled Five Things Americans Need to Know about Barbecue gave this advice. “Salt liberally, then salt some more. It’s almost impossible to over salt meat that goes on a grill — that is, if you’re using coarse kosher salt. Unlike table salt, which just makes meat salty, coarse salt doesn’t melt; it becomes a crust. That crust tastes good”.
The last couple verses of today’s lesson are about salt and fire and this advice from barbecuers may actually shed some light on our text. (We’ll get back to that in a minute.)
It is this very short phrase about fire and salt at this end of our lesson that the Jesus Seminar voted as being most likely something Jesus could have said. It is also one of the most confusing phrases that I have ever come across in scripture, especially when you begin to look at some early changes in the early Greek and Aramaic texts.
There is general agreement between all the sources about verse 50 which reads as, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” There are a couple major variations of verse 49 in our early texts however. The NRSV translation of verse 49 reads, “For everyone will be salted with fire.” There is, if you look closely, a tiny footnote attached to that line that reads, at the bottom of the page, in very small text, “other ancient authorities either add or substitute ‘and every sacrifice will be salted with salt’.”
It all depends on which Greek text you trust to start with. There is a Greek Text called the “Received Text” which was written in 1550 around the time that the printing press was invented and this is the text that was translated into English in the Kings James Bible.
400 years later, in the 1950s, Rev. A. Marshall wrote his own Interlinear Greek-English New Testament in using an edition of Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece, which was written at the turn of the century, saying that the “Received Text” was “now generally recognized as unreliable.” But I also have an interlinear Greek-English translation written in 1976 that used the “Received Text” saying “it is the text commonly reprinted on the Continent.”
What is the big different between these translations in the Greek and subsequent English translations? It is the case of the “missing” second part of Verse 49 which reads: “and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.”
Many commentaries conclude that early Greek and English translators left that second part off when, as John Salmon tells me, “subsequent discoveries of older, better texts, led to translations that are regarded as more accurate.” But, if it wasn’t there in the first place, why was this second phrase about every sacrifice being salted with salt added by a later Greek editor?
When we read the first section, ”For every (one) shall be salted with fire,” we are left with the question: How can someone be salted with fire? If we decide to take on the questionable second phrase, “ and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt,” another question has to be answered: Why would a sacrifice be salted with salt?
The early Aramaic translation of this text may give us a clue to the answers we seek. The Aramaic words used are again a bit different than the Greek. The Aramaic reads, “For …everything… with fire….will be vaporized or destroyed (see 1) and every sacrifice…with salt… will be seasoned (see 2)”. Why does the Aramaic change the first part from being “salted with fire” to being “vaporized with fire”? and the second part from “every sacrifice being salted with salt” to “every sacrifice being seasoned with salt?”
In Aramaic, the root of the word to season or salt is the same as the root for to destroy, vaporize, or scatter. Depending on which prefix you attach to that root, the word is translated as one or the other. There was probably some wordplay going on in the Aramaic text.
So what sort of connections can we make between salt and fire and this added idea now of sacrifices in biblical times? That brings us back to barbecuing and to the text from the Book of Numbers. Barbequers recommend coating meat with rock salt while it is cooking, because while regular salt will just make the meat salty, kosher salt will form a crust on the meat which will help to evenly distribute the heat, flavor the meat just enough and create a tasty crust.
We know that grease fires can also be put out by salt and barbequers are even advised to put salt on the coals to suppress flare ups from any grease that drops off the meat.
We also know that salt in ancient world was an essential, valuable treasure because of its many uses. Most importantly, it can be used as a preservative for meat, which was very important during a time when refrigeration was very scarce and it enhances the flavor of foods. Salt diluted with water can kill certain bacteria and is therefore used for cleansing or soaking some wounds or for gargling with to cure a sore throat.
Salt was easily available to those who lived near the Mediterranean Ocean or Sea of Galilee, and very valuable to those who did not have such easy access to salt water or the time to gather their own supply. Roman soldiers, for instance, were initially paid their wages in salt and the Latin word salarium, whose root means that which pertains to salt, is translated as salary.
All in all, salt was precious. So precious, in fact, that it was prescribed in the Teaching of Torah for use in temple sacrifices. In Leviticus (Lev 2:13 ) Moses commanded “Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” And in Ezekiel we find (Eze 43:24) “You shall present them before the LORD, and the priests shall throw salt on them, and they shall offer them up as a burnt offering to the LORD.”
As we read in our lesson from Numbers, it was commanded that these temple sacrifices be eaten by the priests, (Num 18:19) as part of a sacred, communal meal that maintained the holiness of the sacrifice offered to God. Archeologists have discovered ancient sacrificial altars that are about the size around as modern barbeques and are thought to have included some sort of grate on which the sacrifices would have been placed. (BAR) There are oral traditions of the long lines at the temple when so many people would come each day to make sacrifices.
It is logical to assume that if the sacrifices weren’t salted they could have been completed consumed by the fire; burned to ashes, vaporized, destroyed, leaving the priests nothing for their communal meal. It’s very likely that to use salt in this manner was commonly understood when food was cooked over a fire every day.
So, now let’s look at the text leading up to these lines. Mark has Jesus warning people not to cause anyone to stumble, or, as this text is often interpreted, “tempt anyone to sin.” This is not a text that can be understood literally. Hands don’t cause us to sin or make mistakes and neither do feet. These words have to be metaphorical. Are the hands and feet and eyes in this text to be understood as parts of the Body of Christ, members of the early church, as the Apostle Paul first used the words? Was Jesus warning them to distance themselves from those who were thinking or acting in ways that caused error in understanding or behavior?
Traditionally, we have understand these final verses as telling us that we will all be tested or tried with various trials and tribulations; we will be refined in the fires of life; we will all be seasoned, I suppose, through our struggles. Such refining is a good thing, but if the refining goes bland; if the trials lose their ability to refine us, teach us, how can we make those trials effective again? We are told to have such refining in ourselves, and live at peace with one another.
This just doesn’t fall together well for me. How could the trials of life lose their ability to teach us? And how would we find such trials within ourselves? Are we dealing with mixed metaphors here? Does the metaphor of salt take on multiple meanings?
I find another very interesting message in the Aramaic text: “For …everything… with fire….will be vaporized or destroyed (see 1) and every sacrifice…with salt… will be seasoned (see 2). If it is fire that destroys completely but salt that seasons, as it does every sacrifice, perhaps the fire is a metaphor for passion that when overheated can become destructive and the salt of the sacrifice is a metaphor for compassionate love which will temper, or season, our passion.
It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I could ask the question I want to ask you today. And I apologize for all that textual study… but it seemed necessary.
Question: When does our passion or zeal sometimes overtake our compassion or love so that the purpose or concern behind the passion disappears, as in, vaporizes? Can you think of examples?
I love the idea that the two Aramaic words for season and vaporize may sound, in Aramaic, as much alike as passion and compassion. Think of these two words for a minute. Passion is a personal, or we could even say self-centered, emotion. We are passionate within ourselves about various ideas or things. We feel passion in our own bodies. When we feel passionate toward another person, it involves a lot of our own personal desires and drives.
Compassion, on the other hand, stands alongside another person; focuses on the other; sacrifices for the other; puts ourselves in the shoes of another and therefore puts self
last and others first. We are much less likely to cause others to stumble, when our focus in on what is most loving toward them.
Here is my new paraphrase for this text: “For everyone will be consumed by the fires of their passion, but, remember, every sacrifice is tempered with the salt of love and compassion. Love and compassion is good, but if the saltiness of your love and compassion becomes bland how will you season it? Have the salt of love and compassion in yourselves and live in peace with one another.”
Passion and compassion must be held in a very careful tension with each other. They are both emotions that can serve us well. Passion can give us the motivation and energy and conviction to work for what we know needs to be changed or accomplished. Compassion leads us to greater understanding of each other and the world; leads us to help those in need; to look beyond ourselves for the sake of the community. Passion and compassion are both necessary for the work of justice and peacemaking.
But, . . . perhaps Jesus had to remind his very passionate and zealous disciples, at times, not to let their zeal stand in the way of their love for others and the purpose and work to which they were called. In their zeal they had tried to stop someone from casting out a demon from another. In their zeal they had tried to keep desperate parents and their ailing children from being healed by Jesus.
We all feel very strongly about certain issues of justice and understanding in our lives. We all have our own areas of concern that we feel drawn to support and defend. This is a good thing! But remember the sacrifices that the Hebrew people made to Yahweh and the salt that kept those sacrifices whole enough to later be used as nourishment. Remember the sacrifices that the early disciples made in holding onto the teachings of their Rabbi Jesus. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our own passions and season them with compassion, in order to nourish and support the new community of God’s will and way that is with us here and now.
Posted 2 weeks, 3 days ago. Add a comment
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
Jesus had been teaching in Galilee for some time and his reputation as an up and coming Rabbi continued to grow. Mark throws in a fantastic story, at this point in his retelling of the Story of Jesus, in which Jesus is transfigured before the eyes of Peter, James, and John, on a mountain top. Those three disciples had been given a special invitation to accompany Jesus to the mountain so they alone witnessed Elijah and Moses standing beside Jesus who was bathed in light.
Coming down from the mountain, Mark writes, Jesus learned that the disciples he had left behind had been unable to cast the demons out of a young boy. It wasn’t bad enough that Jesus had picked his favorites to go to the mountain, but now the others were being criticized for not having had adequate healing powers; for not having worked hard enough while the others were gone.
It’s not surprising that an argument arose among the disciples about who had the greatest faith; who was the best disciple. The issue of power and authority has always been on the minds of human beings..
Jesus responded to their arguing by sitting them down and telling them that that one who wanted to be first among them must become the last; or the servant of all.
But John was still concerned about the power issue. John said to Jesus, “Rabbi we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” Jesus responded with something like,, “So? What’s the problem? Anyone who has the power to cast out demons is doing the same work we are, isn’t he?!” And then Jesus warns them all not to put stumbling blocks before anyone, no matter how worthy they seem, regardless of whether they are part of their “in-group” or not.
Mark’s gospel goes on to tell of Jesus leaving Galilee for the land of Judea, where crowds continued to follow him and he continued to interpret the teachings of Torah. He was continually asked questions about Torah and would give his own midrashic understanding of various texts. This was the traditional and important work that his disciples expected him to be doing.
Perhaps the disciples were only trying to protect Jesus from what they understood to be the annoyance of desperate parents and ailing children when they began to turn the children away. Perhaps they were thinking something like, “We’re in the middle of an important midrash on Torah, here, what are these people thinking trying to push their children up close to Jesus just so that he might touch them? Later we can plan a time for Jesus to do some healing and they can come back then!”
When we hear the familiar words of Jesus welcoming the children instead, we are quickly drawn into the soothing, comfortable, reassuring picture. Our artists paint the scene with freshly washed, blonde babies, being bounced on Jesus lap. There’s always a big smile on Jesus and each of the children!
The gospel writers of Matthew and Luke copy this story almost verbatim from Mark. Our English translation reads, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (NRVS) (We might get thrown off by Matthew’s use of “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of “Kingdom of God” and start thinking about life after death and all, but the two phrases really meant the same thing.)
Looking at the original languages of the text, however, give us a clearer understanding of what Jesus might have been saying. There is a subtle difference in wording in the final part of verse 14, for instance. John Salmon, our own resident Biblical professor, translates the early Greek text as, “Allow the little children to come to me, do not prohibit (or hinder) them for of such is (estin) the kingdom of God.”
The Pesshita, or early Aramaic translation, (which Leas found last week) (Have I mentioned how good it is to be part of St. Mark?!) translates into English as, “Allow the children to come to me and do not hinder them, because (and here it sounds really weird, but it helps, I think, to read it literally), for those… for who…. as these…. are, exists the kingdom of God.”
The Greek and Aramaic translations get us away from the word belong, which may have meant the same thing to the English translators, but tends to make some readers think about right of possession or ownership. (Note 1)
That leaves us with two possible ways to understand this phrase. We can understand it as, “for the Kingdom of God consists of those who are such as these little children.” This may even be saying more than, “Look at little children and you are getting a glimpse of the kingdom.” Or in other words, “These little children are the Kingdom!”
If we go with the other understanding of the Aramaic exists for then we have a second interesting possibility. That translation would have us understand that “the reason the Kingdom exists, in the first place, is for such as these.” Neither of these translations really tell us that the Kingdom belongs to such as these.
Such word study also points out that the Kingdom is thought to exist in the here and now and not somewhere else at some future point. We are not to think of some realm where God lives that is apart from the present physical surroundings of our earthly home. The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of; the Kingdom that was revealed in Torah, was where we least expected to find it; around and within those who were perceived to be without power or influence.
Now, the gospel stories of Jesus present him as having had his favorite prophetic figures in Israel’s history; those few prophets that he loved to quote when he was teaching Torah. Isaiah was one of the prophets, it seems, on the top of his list.
As I looked through my exhaustive concordance for Elder Testament writings that include the word children, I found very few that present children in a purposely positive light. In Proverbs, for instance, there are many lessons about not being like little children, but none about being like children. I finally found only one text that lifts up children and that is the vision of the peaceable Kingdom from Isaiah that reads, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, . . . and a little child shall lead them!” (Isaiah 11:6)
The Tanakh, which translates the ancient Hebrew into English, actually translates this as, “with a little boy to herd them.” (Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia. 1985 pg 640) With all of the wild beasts who were previously hunters living together in one place with their previous prey, even in the Peaceable Kingdom, one might think that a more powerful shepherd would be called for, just as the people hoped that the promised Messiah of God would come as a mighty ruler who would defeat the armies of their enemies.
As Isaiah envision of the Kingdom of God, the image of a little child herding the rest of us came to mind. Perhaps this text was another favorite of Jesus. Perhaps it was the little child that represented a kind of power for both Isaiah and Jesus that was unlike the human understanding of power in strength, wealth, knowledge, or influence.
We often think that “little child” is a reference to those who are “weak and vulnerable,” and that is certainly one characteristic of children, but in the case of Isaiah’s text, is it fair to consider a child that can “herd them” completely “weak or vulnerable.” Or is it that we simply perceive “those such as children” to be “weak and vulnerable” when in affect they only display a different sort of leadership and wisdom?
Both Isaiah and Jesus saw the Kingdom, it seems, when they looked at little children. We could talk for hours about what the traits of children might have been that created this vision for them. Neither Jesus nor Isaiah spell it out for us. It may have been that those traits were more than they could describe, or that they didn’t feel they needed to describe those traits, or even that children held a mystery that was beyond words.
But perhaps we can pull up a bit a wisdom about the power and strength and wisdom of children.. How do little children represent God’s Kingdom to you?
In, Learning By Heart, by Corita Kent, I came across this description of the ways of the young child. “If you have a child of two or three, or can borrow one, let her give you beginning lessons in looking. It takes just a few minutes. Ask the child to come from the front of the house to the back and closely observe her small journey. It will be full of pauses, circling, touching and picking up in order to smell, shake, taste, rub, and scrape. The child’s eyes won’t leave the ground, and every piece of paper, every scrap, every object along the path will be a new discovery.
It does not matter that this is all familiar territory – the same house, the same rug and chair. To the child, the journey of this particular day, with its special light and sound, has never been made before. So the child treats the situation with the open curiosity and attention it deserves. The child is quite right.”
(Kent, Corita and Steward, Jan, Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit, Bantam Books, New York, NY, 1992)
There are actually two lessons about how to live in community in these few words from Jesus. First, be very careful about how you perceive the important matters of faith and who you think fits and doesn’t fit in the Kingdom. Be very careful about extending an open heart of welcome and compassion to all.
Secondly, don’t discount the ways of the inner child that psychologists say dwells in each of us. Even though we grow and mature into adults with different skills and understandings, often it is the wisdom of thinking like a little child that will serve us best and lead us to building the new community of God’s will and way.
It is the heart of the little child, around us and within us, Jesus says, that will reveal God’s new community and open us to receiving and entering and living therein.
1) The Greek phrase which translates as for of such, John Salmon says, is in the genitive construction which means it indicates the composition of “the kingdom.” If for of such were in the dative construction in Greek then it would change the understanding usually to “the Kingdom existing for such as these,” but John doesn’t rule that out with the genitive construct either. The Greek is (estin) usually gives a sense of “consists of” and the Aramaic exists may be a strong connotation of is or may represent a slightly different text. The use the word for can be understood either in terms of “because” or in terms of “the reason why.”
Posted 3 weeks, 3 days ago. Add a comment
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
The disciples of Rabbi Jesus who were still living in Jerusalem had gathered to celebrate the holy festival called Shavuot. This was the day the Jews remembered the greatest gift of Yahweh to the Jewish people; the gift of the Torah; the revelation of God which became the first five books of the Elder Testament. It was celebrated fifty days after Passover on the day of the year that Moses received the gift from God on Mt. Sinai. Our Jewish brothers and sisters from P’nai Or celebrated Shavuot in this place on Tuesday night
Throughout the Younger Testament, Jesus is presented as the new Moses; a new redeemer saving the people from bondage. Jesus is revealed standing beside Moses and Elijah on his own holy mountain. Throughout his ministry Jesus spoke of Torah and created midrash of Torah. Today we still celebrate the festival of Shavuot, calling it by it’s Greek name, Pentecost, the day fifty days after Easter Pesach when the Spirit of God was revealed as another gift of wisdom and truth.
In John’s later gospel Jesus is seen as the incarnation of God’s wisdom. The prologue to John’s gospel states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
The similarities between these words and the words concerning Wisdom in Proverbs would have been unmistakable for John’s audience. Except for changing the word wisdom to word, the lines and action of the story remains the same. The Greek logos or word simply replaces the Hebrew hochma or wisdom
According to John, following Jesus’ final meal with his disciples Jesus told them that he would be with them only a little longer and that where he was going they could not come. He proceeded to give them a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them, but the story is written as if the disciples heard nothing other than the fact that he was leaving them.
Simon Peter finally stammered out, “Lord, where are you going?” as if he hadn’t heard him clearly the first time and proceeded to argue with Jesus that he would be able to follow Jesus anywhere.
The disciples must have been confused and frightened by Jesus’ words as they began to sink in so Jesus comforted them saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He comforted them with promises that he was going away to prepare a place for them; that he would come back and get them; and that they could pray in his name while he was gone and he’d do anything they asked.
Jesus promised his disciples that God would send them another helper who would stay with them forever. He said that this new helper or advocate, as the word is also translated, would be the Spirit of truth who would abide with and in the disciples, teach them everything, and remind them of all that Jesus had taught them.
“Spirit” in Greek is “pneuma”, which also means “breath” or “wind”. Our words “pneumatic” and “pneumonia” come from this root word. “Pneuma,” a Greek word ending with an “a,” was considered a feminine noun.
Biblical authors, editors, translators, and interpreters ever since have faced a bit of a dilemma here. How could feminine pronouns be used in reference to the Spirit if that spirit was the Spirit of a male Jesus or the Spirit of Yahweh, whom they had long imagined as male? Somehow or another; somewhere along the journey that this text has been on, the pronoun for the feminine Spirit of truth simply changed from “she” to “he” in scripture.
The story of Pentecost, that we find in part 2 of Luke’s gospel, is told in the vibrant and rich colors and images. It comes with the rush of a mighty wind, with the vision of tongues dancing above their heads. It is a scene very reminiscent of Moses upon Mt. Sinai, where there was thunder and lightning and the mountain became wrapped in smoke as God descended upon it in fire.
The gift of Shavuot and that first Pentecost were also about language; about words that each person could hear and understand clearly and personally. At Sinai the LORD said to Moses, I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.” In the middle of the wilderness the people celebrated the gift of God’s wisdom speaking to them in language they could finally understand; words written down on stone tablets, the gift of language which prescribed what sort of community would sustain them; what sort of behavior would build them into a people of peace and justice.
The words from the LORD at Mt. Sinai empowered those wandering Arameans just as the words of the Spirit in Jerusalem empowered those disciples who were still a bit bewildered about the meaning of their experience with Jesus. In Jerusalem, people from every nation who were gathered around the disciples heard the disciples speaking in their own native tongue. The revelation that came to them that day, set flames dancing over their heads. She set tongues on fire, burning, convicting, challenging, and cleansing hearts and souls.
Today we celebrate the gift of the Spirit that reveals wisdom and truth. Can you think of one particular bit of wisdom or truth that the Spirit has revealed to you? What gift of revelation or understanding might you celebrate today?
P’nai Or’s Shavuot celebration on Tuesday, which began with a communal meal in the early evening, included an intergenerational Procession of the First Fruits which connected the holiness of the harvest with the instruction to nourish community by asking everyone to bring offerings of fresh, organic produce to be donated to Human Solutions.
Following the meal they held an evening service prayer of thanksgiving, followed by an all-night (or into-the-night, as many last only until midnight) Torah study based on the practice of the kabbalists’ or mystics’. This custom is called a “tikkun.” The word tikkun is understood as a process of “repairing the world” which even includes improving one’s own qualities.
When asked why they study all night, the Jews say, “We remain awake to show that, unlike the situation of our heavy-lidded ancestors at Sinai, there is no need to bring us to our senses; we are ready to receive Torah.”
P’nai Or’s theme for their tikkun this year was “Relationship, Redemption & Revelation: Releasing Our Barriers to Engagement with the Divine and Each Other.” Their study time explored the relational wisdom within their texts from Torah through movement, ritual, music, teachings, and dialogue.
After 11 pm, those who wished, deepened their understanding with more meditation, stream-of-consciousness writing and/or sharing. Deeper study followed and brought the hardiest among them into the dawn when they held their morning prayer service at 5 am and said their prayers in memory of the dead as they greeted the sun.
Sounds like a Saturday night Easter vigil, doesn’t it? In David Zaslow’s class on Roots and Branches we learned that the Torah is Jesus for the Jews. They love and study and follow Torah, which redeems them, in the same way we love, and study and follow Jesus.
Luke writes that during a first century Shavuot, the disciples and the people that began to gather around them that day, understood what everyone was saying, even though they had all been using their own language; their own words for what they were trying to say. That was the gift and work of the Spirit, no doubt! Think of all the times we think we can use words that make sense to us while those around us don’t use or understand our words!
Luke writes that Peter was the first to speak up. Peter said, “God spoke long ago through the prophet Joel declaring, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL flesh, and your sons AND your daughters will prophesy, and your YOUNG men shall see visions and your OLD men shall dream DREAMS! Even upon my SLAVES, both men AND women, in those days I will pour out MY spirit, and THEY shall prophesy.”
The spirit of truth is promised to everyone. She is not a force that overpowers us as we sit and wait. She is a power which emerges from within us, a spirit which is revealed and encountered whenever and wherever women and men are willing to embrace and meditate upon and proclaim a God of compassion and justice.
May the spirit of wisdom and truth be revealed like flames of fire on our tongues today and may she empower us in this place and time, with wisdom to dream dreams, and see visions, and speak prophetically in love. Amen
Mark 4:3-8 (Matt 13:3-8)
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
Natives of Palestine say that it is time to sow the seeds, “when the thirst of the land is quenched.” Palestine is a land that is quenched with rain in early winter. Winter is the best growing season in that land because there is both moisture and mild temperatures.
For thousands of years putting in a crop has remained very much the same for poor farmers in the Middle East. The farmer starts off for his field early in the morning. His friends go with him, as he has gone with them. A small donkey is loaded up with a plow and bags of seeds and knows the road to the field by heart so starts off ahead of them. The women and children follow along behind. When they reach the field, the men and women alike tuck the bottom of their skirts into the front of their waste bands, so that the skirts don’t get soiled.
The sower, carrying a large sack of seeds, walks back and forth through the field, and with both hands scatters seeds as evenly as possible over the small plot of ground. Following the sower comes the donkey who pulls the plow through the soil. Someone else holds onto the plow giving the donkey directions. The plow gently turns the newly sown seeds into the ground. If the seeds have been lucky enough to be turned into good soil and the rains continue, the seeds may spring up quickly and grow well. This morning’s parable reminds us, however, that falling into good soil every time, can’t be taken for granted.
In the fields each family’s plot of land is surrounded by a narrow walking path where the earth is firmly packed from years of foot steps. As the seed is scattered some inevitably land on the path where the donkey will not go and the plow will not reach. Those seeds become a quick and easy breakfast for the birds nearby.
Then there is the problem of rocks. Willamette Valley farmlands have rich dark soil; the accumulation of centuries of decayed forest floors and river beds. The ground in most of Palestine, however, is covered with stones the size of your fist. It is a never-ending task for farmers to remove all the stones from their fields, but when seeds are sown in a field with stones, the stones absorb the warmth of the sun and suck away even more of the precious moisture held in the soil. The seeds that sprout may quickly wither away from lack of water.
Thorns are a given in any field! Thorn and weed seeds float in on the wind or are carried in by the birds. There is always a battle going on. Which seeds will sprout and take over the field first?
We are relieved to be reminded by our lesson, that some of the seeds, at least, will fall on good soil and grow to produce grain. Sometimes the harvest is unbelievable! A harvest of a hundred-fold would be more than the farmers ever hoped for.
For the author of Mark’s gospel this parable became a prime opportunity to give the early followers of Jesus a word about spreading the seeds of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, we suspect, knew that it denied the power of a parable to explain it, but for this evangelist, who adds his own explanation, the seeds are equated with the word (we can assume he is referring to the word or message of Jesus) and stretching the comparison to its limits, when these seeds of words are planted in good soil they are heard and grow into believers.
Leaving off the author’s attempt to interpret and letting the parable stand alone teaches simply that as seeds are sown, some will grow, a little or a lot, and some will die. The parables of Jesus are thought to be among the most authentic recorded words of Rabbi Jesus, as this was a literary genre often used by rabbis. The Greek, parabole means literally to throw alongside. In other words, parables talk about one thing while referring to something else thrown also side.
The problem with parables was figuring out what the other thing thrown along side was. Often the parables of Jesus tended to turn the whole world upside down. There was often a certain twist of expectations in his parables that left his audience trying to figure out why he would say that.
But in this parable, the only surprise is that it doesn’t seem to have a surprise. Instead of having some sort of paradigm shift, on the surface, this parable seems quite logical. “Lots of seeds are sown, and those seeds that are plowed into good soil grow best”.
I often feel like the folks that first heard these words would have said to themselves, “Uh huh. . . so. . . is that it? We knew that already.” But perhaps on their way home, some of them began to wonder about other seeds in their lives and how they were sowing those seeds.
Question: Let’s begin by thinking about the “good soil” in our lives. Where have you found and experienced “good soil”? Soil that has produced good things in your life?
The text reads when some later asked about the parable, Jesus explained that the secret of the kingdom of God had been given only to the followers of Jesus while to everyone else, understanding and forgiveness was purposefully hidden.
Jewish Scholar Amy-Jill Levine, in her commentary on this text, says that this English translation “rigidly and irrevocably separates insiders from outsiders, and the latter are lost.” She says it seems as if “Jesus speaks in parables in order that the outsiders may not understand and seek forgiveness.”
Jesus supposedly quotes Isaiah (6:9) here who proclaimed centuries earlier that the Assyrian invasion was due to God’s anger kindled against the people because of their greedy oppression of the poor.
Isaiah understood God telling him to “Make the mind of (his) people dull, . . . so that they may not look with their eyes and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” We no longer believe that God causes armies to attack, but even if Jesus still did believe such theology, would the Jesus you know speak in parables just so that outsiders could not understand? Not hardly!
In fact, it’s most likely that the author of Mark added this interpretation as a good lesson on evangelism for his first century audience. But, our NRSV may put a particularly bad twist on the author’s original intent.
The Antioch Bible’s Aramaic translation is: “And Yeshua said to them, ‘To you it is given to understand the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to those outside everything is in parables. So that when they see, they will see yet not see, and when they hear, they will hear and not comprehend unless perhaps they return and their sin be forgiven them.’”
Perhaps the author of Mark’s Gospel did not say that Jesus spoke in parables in order that outsiders could not understand. Instead of the NRSV that says “so that they may not turn again and be forgiven,” perhaps the original was more like “unless perhaps they return and their sin be forgiven them.” We cannot judge the intention behind the use of the word perhaps here. We can’t tell if the hope was that they not return and seek forgiven or if the hope was that perhaps they still could return and be forgiven.
Unfortunately, the text of explanation that follows today’s parable was probably changed by subsequent editors and translators that followed and may now painfully reveal Christian theologies of Super-sessionism and Exclusive Salvation.
Perhaps we could say that Jesus himself was the sower who had planted a seed in the minds of his original audience with this parable and that he was hoping that they would become good soil and return with some understanding and that the harvest from that good soil of serious reflection would be considerable!
What do we sow seeds each day? Perhaps we have a conflict with someone at home or work or school and later on find ourselves thinking about all the other nasty things that person has ever said or done to us or to anyone on the planet. . . thinking about how unjustly they (and others, for that matter,) always treat us. . . thinking about how we could get even sometime by saying something equally unkind. . . or setting them up for failure. . .
Instead of giving our seeds a chance to grow in the good soil of patience and tolerance for a harvest of greater understanding and better solutions that sort of thinking feels like thorns choking any potential growth or dry, stony ground scorching any life-giving possibilities.
Perhaps we are out socializing with friends and get into a conversation about what can and should be done to solve some current problem in society. We are full of great ideas! We have even read several articles online about this issue! We know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.
Eventually, we say our “good nights”, get into the car and once home, our pocket books a bit lighter and heads beginning to ache a bit, we drop into bed. In the morning nothing will have changed and we will probably have forgotten the evening’s conversation entirely. Sometimes all our good ideas get merely thrown about casually only to land on nothing but a packed path where the birds feast.
Some of the seeds we sow will always fall on a solid path and others among thorns. Some of our seeds will wither from lack of moisture, but if we want those seeds to produce a crop that will enrich and sustain lives, perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to finding some good soil.
Good soil would be nourishing. It would be able to firmly hold and protect and yet willing to gently give room for change and grow. It would be both loving and freeing. Good soil would be carefully and continuously cared for, watched over, weeded, and watered.
Good soil would be soil with some real heart in it. That doesn’t mean just soil that feels all warm and fuzzy, but soil filled with agape, the love that comes from God; love that is a verb more than a noun; love that is sacrificial and unconditional.
There’s also the possibility that Jesus told this parable, not only to remind people to pay attention to where seeds were planted; but also to assure the people that, in the end, they must not stop sowing seeds just because some of the seeds fall on the path or die among the weeds or sun. After all, often we don’t get to see the harvest we have planted and if only one seed sprouted and grew, that one seed would multiply into many seeds from one plant.
We walk in the steps of Rabbi Jesus, trusting that some of the seeds we sow will grow and bear fruit and produce more seeds that will also grow. We don’t have to do it all; we don’t have to change the world by ourselves, we just have to keep sowing seeds so that some may fall into the good soil of the heart.
Posted 1 month, 1 week ago. Add a comment
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
I was part of an interfaith panel recently that spoke to a local university class. The panel’s subject was the moral empowerment of women. I was asked to represent the Christian perspective, fortunately. It was my role to go first, define morality, and speak on the relationship between morality and faith in no more than 15 minutes. I barely had time to share a few stories of women in Christian scripture, but the topic got me thinking about Christian morality in general.
I decided, afterwards, to look for the most authentic teachings of Jesus about morality and ethical behavior. I came up eight lessons that most scholars agree most likely represent the ethical behavior Jesus taught.
Over the next couple of months, we are going to reflect on those eight lessons together. These are words attributed to Jesus, about how we are to behave in the world; about the intentions and motivations that should direct our thoughts, words and actions. For Christians, these are lessons in discipleship, as well.
We will find that many the most authentic sayings of Jesus are simple “aphorisms;” a very short statement of a truth or opinion. According to the Jesus Seminar scholars the part of this text today that is most likely authentically from Jesus is the adage at the very end, “It’s not what goes in but what comes out that defiles.”
In this story, Jesus is in the middle of a religious debate that centered on how to balance the commandments handed down by Moses with the practices and traditions that had arisen. The earlier prophet Isaiah had called these practices, “human precepts.” Some of the Pharisees now called them “the tradition of the elders.”
The debate began when part of the crowd noticed that some of Jesus’ disciples ate without first washing their hands. The parenthetical explanation of the purity rules, which Mark’s author inserts, is probably incorrect in saying that the Pharisees, and all the Jews, followed these rules. According to Hebrew scholar Amy-Jill Levine, it is more likely that the Sadducees and most other Jews did not follow the strict Pharisaic purity code.
The practice of washing the hands before eating, washing food bought in the market and washing pots and pans, (and some ancient manuscripts also add beds to this list) developed, out of concern over infection. Moses had not passed down laws about such cleanliness, specifically, however, only the commandment of ritual bathing before entering the temple.
The focus of the Pharisaic movement within Judaism at this time was to keep the faith and traditions of the Jewish people alive within their ever diversifying culture. In order to do this they encouraged the people to become more observant of Jewish traditions and teachings. As things changed within Judaism and around them politically, their rituals were slowly adapted. The Pharisees would never have deliberately replaced the moral instructions of Moses with new ritualistic observances, but natural reformations came about as knowledge and culture evolved.
The complaints raised by some of the Pharisees reminds me of the criticisms years ago about “those dirty hippies!” In the 60’s and 70’s especially, there were concerns raised about the choice of clothing, lifestyle, and hygienic practices of those who had moved into communes, or were choosing to live more simply; those who were not washing clothes or bodies as often as others; who were wearing hair styles that looks like a brush hadn’t touched their heads in months, etc.
Likewise, some of the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples did not walk (as the word translates from the original Greek) in the tradition of the elders. They wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples did not follow traditional customs. Why were they choosing to walk in the world in a manner that was a bit different than they were used to?
Jesus was very disturbed by their attitude and responded by calling them hypocrites and quoting Isaiah who wrote that “the people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
Part of the question for today then is: What “human precepts” do we hold as doctrines within our religion or within our culture today? And how might these human precepts distract us from concentrating on thoughts and actions of compassion? What “traditions of the elders” are part of this ongoing debate for us today?
(Homosexuality, Women’s Roles, Membership, ordination, selling of indulgences, communion tokens… )
The author of Mark’s Gospel inserts his own current example, at this point, of a tradition that first century Christians were dealing with. It seems that the commandment to “Honor your mother and father” was being watered down by new customs and traditions. According to the Torah, very devote Jew, male and female, was expected to give a half shekel as a temple offering to God annually. (Exodus 30:11) This was called corban which literally meant offering to the Lord.
Over the years, if a person was unable to pay their corban all at once, they were allowed to simply pledge or promise this corban to God and pay it off a little at a time. There had been times when the tradition was also to forgive these pledged offerings when families had other pressing needs, but more recently, it seems, the tradition was changing to hold the people more firmly to their promises.
The author of Mark claims that Jesus strictly criticized those who defended such human precepts. According to the Antioch Bible which translated from the original Aramaic, Jesus said to those who were defending this new tradition, “Moses says ‘Honor your mother and father,’ but you say, “Should a man say to his father or his mother, ‘My offering is what you have gained from me’ then you do not allow him to do anything for his father or for his mother and you despise the word of God because of the tradition that you have handed down.”
The phrase, ‘My offering is what you have gained from me’ could have referred to an offering made to cover the parent’s obligation to the temple or to an offering made in honor of the parent but as the son or daughter’s obligation. The offering, or pledge of offering, in either case, was now being claimed to somehow benefit, (as the Greek word is often translated) the parent.
Jesus goes on to says, “then you do not allow him to do anything for his father or for his mother.” If we read this literally it sounds like the elders were somehow stopping the people from doing anything for their parents and that would have been quite impossible either to insist upon or to enforce. It may be best to assume that this was a bit of exaggeration used to make a point and was filled with a bit of sarcasm. Mark holds up the injustice of this tradition, in effect, by saying that this was the same as not permitting them to do anything for their parents until their temple pledge is paid in full and thus goes so far as to void out the commandment of God.
So, going back to the original complaint about eating with dirty hands, Jesus responds to the crowd by saying simply, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile; but the things that come out are what defile.” These words challenged the everyday, inherited, and well established norms and social boundaries that many have grown to believe were sacred. Jesus’ words would have undermined a whole way of life that many had embraced and that, in the judgment of many biblical scholars, “sounds just like Jesus!”
For Jesus, the priority was not prescribed religious traditions which had practically melded into social customs. It was not that some of these traditions were bad in and off themselves; it was a good idea to keep things clean while they were eating. This prevented a lot of disease. It was a good idea to consider one’s pledges to the temple seriously. This helped the temple maintain its operation. Jesus most likely followed many of those traditions himself when he could.
The more important matter, however, was how you lived together in community; how you learned to show compassion to one another; how you took care of the people around you. When some folks in the 60s and 70s complained about “those dirty hippies,” how many of them stopped to think about what those who embraced that lifestyle were promoting? . . . Things like conserving resources, living closer to the land, eating healthier foods, ending warfare and violence, and focusing instead on understanding, love and peace.
This is the biblical text that first comes to mind for me when we get into the conflict over homophobia. How is it that some folks can be so concerned with who a person loves, who a person feels sexually attracted to, or who a person wishes to marry rather than being concerned with what kind of unkind, disrespectful, manipulative, or hurtful actions may come out of any of our human relationships, whether they be homosexual or heterosexual or bisexual?
We can often use human precepts or traditions as excuses, or at least distractions, for not living compassionately or sacrificially as we are called by Jesus to live. Some may say to themselves, “I wrote a check to United Way this year, so I have done my bit for the community.” Sending a check to a charity is certainly not a bad thing to do. It’s important that such work is supported, but how often does such a tradition distract us from further, more complicated or demanding acts of compassion?
It is our compassion that matters most. Perhaps listening to the heart will not solve every moral dilemma that we face, but it just may lead us to seek a higher good, a higher value, than those expectations and norms that our culture, or even our religion, sets before us. If our thoughts and actions are based on love, compassion, and justice, we will come much closer to faithful and divine living.
Of course, in order to use love, compassion, and justice as our heart’s compass, we have to be open to closer connections with the people in our communities; to listen not only with our ears but with our hearts; to stretch and work for greater understanding with the heart. That’s the compass that should direct our path; leading us in the steps of Rabbi Jesus.
Posted 1 month, 2 weeks ago. Add a comment
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
We really love this story about Doubting Thomas. We love to reflect on how all of us have our doubts from time to time and isn’t it nice that Jesus understands and doesn’t judge us for it. That’s such an easy place to go with this text. So easy, in fact, that we often glaze right over the hard part.
The story is told that the disciple Thomas missed Easter. We can only imagine where Thomas might have been that evening when the women discovered that his tomb was empty. We have to fill in the blanks about what Thomas could have been doing while all of the others were gathered discussing secretly what the women had told them.
Some imagine (giving him the benefit of the doubt) that Thomas could have been simply on an errand, taking care of the logistical needs of the group, when Jesus showed up.
Others go the psychological route, wondering if perhaps it was harder emotionally for Thomas to rejoin the group; if perhaps Thomas was still hiding afraid of being arrested himself or immobilized by the shattering of his theological dreams.
Thomas is always represented by the gospel writers as the skeptical voice or the voice of reason within the group of disciples. You know the type. I’ve been accused of being the type! We’re always saying things like, “Yes, but what if? Now are you sure? Let’s stop and think about this…”
When Jesus told his followers that he was leaving “to prepare a place for them”, and that they knew the way to the place where he was going, the gospels say that Thomas objected, saying, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
When Jesus decided to return to Judea because his friend Lazarus was dying, the disciples warned Jesus saying, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you! Are you going back there again?” When Thomas saw that Jesus really intended to go back to Judea, the story is that Thomas feared the worst, saying “OK, we all might as well go die with him.”
Supposedly, all of the disciples scattered and hid when Jesus was taken away to be crucified and it took Thomas longer than the others to rejoin the group. When Thomas finally came back to them, he was still not willing to get caught up in their fantasy; he may have thought they were deep into the denial phase of the grief process when they claimed that Jesus was alive, that he had appeared to some of them, blessed them and commissioned them to carry on.
Thomas may have been thinking something like, “I can understand when everyone uses metaphors to describe religious experiences, but they can’t expect me to believe that these appearances of Jesus are anything other than poetic confessional language.
Thomas stands his ground with his friends, telling them that they are crazy if they think he is still alive; that he can’t and won’t believe such a thing unless he sees Jesus with his own eyes and touches Jesus with his own hands. The original Greek is much more vivid than most English translations in conveying Thomas’ emotional words. Instead of “placing his finger in the hole in his hands”, the original Greek translates the word as “thrust.” “Unless I thrust my finger into the mark of the nails in his hand, and unless I thrust my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
There’s a real sense of sarcasm and even anger in the use of this word. Perhaps the tradition claimed that Thomas was angry at Jesus for going to the cross; angry at the disciples for being so naïve and holding on to some sense of hope. It’s almost as if Thomas said to them, “Ok, as soon as I can poke my finger through those cute little holes in his hands, I’ll be convinced!”
A week later, the gospel continues, Jesus appeared to the group again and this time Thomas was with them. This time it is Jesus who confronts Thomas using Thomas’ own words against him. Again, the Greek is very dramatic as Jesus says to Thomas, “So, bring your finger here and see may hands, and bring your hand and thrust it into my side and end your faithlessness, – and become faith-filled.”
Suddenly, Thomas’ need for evidence fell away and Thomas stammered the clearest, faith-filled confession that anyone ever made in John’s Gospel, “My Lord and My God!”
The story of Thomas was undoubtedly shared by John’s gospel to potential new followers to believe in his spirit and presence, despite their rational thinking. What we often miss, as we busily assuage our own guilt over doubting his presence, is that this is also a story about wounds.
The question remains, “Why didn’t the first disciples experience the living presence of Jesus with his wounds completely headed?” When we think of being resurrected, or of being risen from the dead to new life, we typically think of being given a perfect, totally whole and healthy human form. Why were Jesus’ hands and side still filled with holes when the disciples experienced his presence?
It’s likely that the wounds helped to verify both the humanness of Christ and served as proof that the crucifixion indeed happened, but it is still curious that as Paul and others claimed that the power of death was conquered, for the early gospel writers his wounds remained. It is as if this story urges his followers to remember the woundedness of the world, even as the bright hope of Easter morning continues to shine! Doesn’t seem like such darkness should be part of the Easter experience, but the wounds are still there.
Question: Where have you seen “wounds” or the “wounded” in your own experiences?
Perhaps Thomas was right on track when it came to asking for the correct verification. Thomas didn’t say, “Unless I see his halo, or his face, (which they should all have known well enough), or his dazzling white robe, I’ll never believe.” Thomas’ request reminds us that the Christ of our faith must always be the Jesus who was crucified; the Jesus who was wounded.
Removing the holes of the nails and spear and in most cases the entire body of Christ, as all but Roman Catholic crucifixes have done, dismisses the reality of life, the daily struggles of many to survive, and the power of evil oppression and violence in the world. Such a healing trivializes the resurrection making it no more than a fairy tale.
The fact is that Jesus wounds remained. The story does not tell of Jesus riding off into the sunset to live happily and perfectly ever after. The story was told of a wounded Savior whose love and sacrifice pointed the way to new life, eternal life, despite the wounds.
The story of Thomas reminds us that following Jesus will likely lead to our being wounded personally, as well. Jesus told his followers, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” If Jesus still has wounds; if the promises of God do not include a life without wounds, then we have to give up the hope of escaping without a scratch.
During the final days that he spent with them, Jesus had warned his disciples that they were being called to a mission that was dangerous business. He said to them, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first, as they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”
There are folks who are no more willing to hear the word of truth about God’s inclusive love and justice, than were the religious and political leaders who crucified Jesus. We are called to share the good news of Christ with a world that is still crucifying such messengers of peace and equality. The wounds on Jesus’ hands and side, remind us that we are saved to a glorious new life that bids us sacrifice everything for our neighbors.
All around us folks a lot like Thomas are asking if the followers of Christ are wounded servants, like their master, or if they are simply gathered together to protect themselves and congratulate themselves about an empty tomb. If we have no wounds, we haven’t been working hard enough or in the right places.
Many who follow Jesus have caught sight of his wounds, perhaps not quite as literally as the story of Thomas would have us imagine, but just as authentically, in the empty hands and broken bodies of those to whom they have been called to serve. May we also see his wounds and follow, with courage, his way.
Posted 2 months, 1 week ago. Add a comment
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
We come to Easter through the waters of the Reed Sea. We come hearing the story told by those first Jews who followed Rabbi Jesus. We come with the taste of the Matzah still on our lips, the songs of freed slaves still ringing in our ears. In other homes, our brothers and sisters are celebrating Passover; remembering their redemption out of bondage in Egypt; their resurrection into new life in the promised land.
Passover is “Pesach” in Hebrew; a word which means, “to leap, spring or skip over”, as when the shadow of death skipped over the homes of the Hebrew people. It is from this word that our Season of new growth is named; a season when all nature leaped out of winter sleep to growth and fruitfulness.
The Easter story begins also with pesach, with leaping over. We spring out of a tomb toward new life. And, in some ways, we also simply leap over worrying about how and what happened to the body of Jesus; we skip being analytical, for once; we get over it, because, at the moment of this resurrection; the new life that is suddenly present moves us far beyond reason and understanding.
Buechner writes, “The fact of the matter is that in a way it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis what drove the people to say that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence. And so it has been ever since.”
Our story of redemption is told at the Reed Sea again, much later, on the road to Emmaus. It was on the same day that the women had found the burial tomb of Jesus empty, Luke writes, that two of Jesus’ disciples left Jerusalem to go to a town called Emmaus. As they walked along they were joined by another traveler and they told the stranger the terrible news about their rabbi who had been crucified in Jerusalem a few days earlier.
The stranger listened and then responded, telling them the things that scripture had to say about the Messiah. As they entered Emmaus, they convinced the man to spend the night with them and in the evening, as he broke bread with them, they experienced the presence of Jesus.
The same thing happened again and again to those who had allowed a bit of the life and love and truth of Jesus to take root in their lives. Though they had seen him die, they experienced his living presence… in a locked upper room, at the seaside over breakfast, as they walked the streets and hillsides of Galilee. They saw Jesus alive and at work in the world, even when at first they could not recognize who he was.
An ancient text; a writing which has been ascribed to the disciple Thomas, remembers Jesus saying, “Cleave a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.”
The experience of a living Jesus because the foundation of a faith that changed the world. But it is also true that believing that Jesus came back from the dead is the biggest stumbling block of Christianity. Being raised from the dead wasn’t such a big deal, two thousand years ago; such stories had been told from time to time, but for a enlightened, scientifically verifiable world, dead is dead and though we can resuscitate people, we can’t do it after three days.
So perhaps Jesus really didn’t die. Many propose theories as to why and how he could have survived and slipped out of the country. Mohammad wrote in The Qur’an that as a true prophet of God, Jesus could not have died the accursed death of hanging which is now crucifixion killed its victims. There are many Christians who believe his burial site to be near Kashmir, India. Perhaps such theories tempt our rational minds, but, you know what? It doesn’t really matter if Jesus died on the cross, anyway. Blasphemy, you say? Call out the next Pastor Nominating Committee!!
It is not Jesus death that matters. Though his integrity and faith in an inclusive, loving God led him to suffer crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, what led his followers to faith and trust in him, was not that he had suffered and died, but that they experienced redemption through some sort of living presence after he was gone.
As those who first followed Rabbi Jesus worked out a theology of why Jesus, who they knew as the Anointed One, the Christ, was crucified and how they could be experiencing his presence, some conceived that God had planned it all along; that God was so angry at the sin of the world that God planned a human sacrifice so that God could forgive and redeem humanity into eternal life, which translated, for others into salvation in Christ alone, and then into “If you want to get to heaven you just gotta take Jesus into your heart!”
I suppose the idea that God would want to redeem humanity cannot be too bad, but since such a sacrifice was not needed either for the slaves of Egypt or for Abraham who found a ram stuck in the thicket, and since we believe in the creative power of God, we have to believe that a human death was not necessary, but only the image of sacrificial love, an image so strong it remained etched as a living presence in the community.
The problem is that “Jesus lives!” sounds like fluffy conservative theology to many ears, including my own. What does that living presence mean? How does that living presence works within us and in the world, despite us? “Jesus lives!” may only continue to turn people away from hearing what Jesus taught or how he called his disciples to live. “Jesus lives!” may not be a concept that can lead folks through a Reed Sea these days, if we can’t better articulate what that means.
My pal Buddy is a conduit for divine wisdom, and he just happens to cut my hair. (I sometimes wish the conduit stuff didn’t happen while he’s cutting my hair, but, so far, the haircut are great too!)
I sat in Buddy’s chair a few days ago and as we talked, he suddenly jumped in around in front of me to tell me about another client he has had for years; a poor older woman who is a bit self-righteous and very religiously conservative, but whom he has grown to love, never-the-less. The woman bought him a book recently, one of those sweet books of Christian wisdom and Buddy admitted that he was sure the book was going to drive him crazy. But one night, though he really didn’t want to even open the book, Buddy turned the first page and read a few lines until he came to this phrase, “Start every day by saying, ‘I trust you, Jesus.’”
The wisdom flowed from Buddy and the spirit took my breath away and Buddy stood there asking, “What? What?” I sat there asking myself, “Could it really be that easy?” Could believing that Jesus is alive be as simple as having the faith to say, “I trust you, Jesus!” “Help me, Jesus!” or “Jesus, what do I do now?” Could it be that the reason we can pray, “in the name of Jesus” is because we do experience his living presence?
God redeems the followers of Jesus; God resurrects Jesus and each of us to new life, through the miracle of a living faith, a faith given birth by the sacrificial compassion and divine wisdom of a Rabbi named Yehosuah, (Jesus); a faith that somehow had the power to take root in the minds and hearts of his people; and to somehow take root in the minds and hearts of those who heard the gospel story for centuries to come as if they knew Jesus personally; as if he were still standing beside them every day. The miracle of our Easter faith; is that we can feel his presence near enough and real enough to say, “I trust you, Jesus!”
Each time we awaken to the hope that there is nothing life can throw at us that cannot be overcome, we know Jesus is alive in our lives. Each time we press on, in spite of the voices that try to convince us that such hope is futile, we know Jesus is alive in our lives. Each time that a past hurt simply evaporates; each time forgiveness arrives despite the futility of trying to forgive; each time love’s invisible power can be see and felt, we know Jesus is alive in our lives.
Last week my 94 year old mother helped me put together a couple Easter surprises for the children. Mom sat on the sofa and Capi and I on the floor in her living room where we could pass her what she needed for her part of the assembly line. When we had finished our projects I looked up at Mom and said, “OK, now all you have left to do is write my Easter sermon.” She took a deep breath, smiled and said, “Just say, . . . . ‘Amen!’” Thank you, Jesus!
Posted 2 months, 2 weeks ago. Add a comment
Mark 14:32-38, 43-46
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
Everybody loves a parade. Reflecting back on that moment when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, the early church remembered it as a grand parade! This was the moment, looking back on it, when the glory of his coming was revealed.
His coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover had led to his final victory. That victory included one final attempt to reform the abuses of the temple and its market. His coming had included several days of preaching and teaching that touched the hearts of the people in powerful ways. He came to share a final Passover Seder with his disciples in which he talked about sacrifice. Though they have lived through a horrific night in which he was tried and killed, his entry into Jerusalem had led, in a way, to that moment three days later when they knew he was still with them, that his tomb was empty.
Everyone loves a parade because parades bring to life the joy we feel as we honor events or people that made a huge difference in our lives. Was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem such a parade with thousands of bystanders?, probably not. Did his coming into Jerusalem deserve a parade, in the minds of those who look back on the day, definitely.
(Name some of your favorite parades..)
According to Mark’s gospel Jesus entered Jerusalem that first day and went to the temple. When the day ended he left the city and spent the night in Bethany with his disciples. Jesus went back into Jerusalem the next day in a bad mood. Maybe he hadn’t gotten much sleep after what he saw in the temple and what he feared was to come. On the way back to the city he was so irritable that he cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit, though it was not the season for figs.
Jesus went to the temple mount again. What he saw made him furious, the story goes, so furious, in fact, that he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, saying that God’s house was being made into a den of robbers.
The next day, Mark writes, when he again came into Jerusalem and began speaking publicly to whoever would listen, some in the crowds questioned his authority, but he continued with parables about wicked tenants, about paying taxes, about God being the God of the living not of the dead, about the commandment to love God and neighbor being most important, about doing charity for the sake of appearance, about a widow’s last two coins placed in the temple treasury, and about the destruction of the temple.
When the first day of Passover arrived, Jesus and his disciples made their preparations and gathered in an upper room. As they share the Passover seder, Jesus handed them bread calling it his broken body and a cup of wine which he called his blood of the covenant.
Jesus and his friends ended their Seder rejoicing in Israel’s escape from Egypt as they sang the traditional psalms. They left the city and followed Jesus a short distance up the Mount of Olives. It was well into the night but perhaps the light of watch fires or the exceptional homes still lit by candles could be seen in the city below them. Perhaps their steps were guided by the light of the moon.
As they walked, the story goes, Jesus warned them that they would all become deserters, like sheep that would scatter when their shepherd was killed. This quote from Zechariah was probably added by this first century Christian evangelist who set up Jesus as the One who fulfilled all Hebrew prophecies. Fulfilling scripture also tended to let the disciples off the hook when they indeed fled a bit later.
The early evangelist of Mark’s gospel also lived during a time when there were many who opposed Peter’s leadership in the new faith community. A story of Jesus predicting that Peter would deny him, as many as three times, may have been added to support a case against Peter’s nomination.
We can’t deny the fact, though, that as surely as the cock crows three times each morning, disciples of Jesus will sometimes deny ever knowing him, whether explicitly or through their refusal to follow his way.
According to Mark’s gospel, when they reached a certain olive grove on a high hill, Jesus told the disciples to wait for him while he went a bit further to pray. Then he asked three of the disciples to come with him.
The adjectives that Mark’s story employs to describe Jesus are intense. He became “distressed and agitated.” Jesus told Peter, James, and John that he was “deeply grieved, even to death.” Filled with anguish, Jesus asked the three to stay put and to stay awake. Was he fearing his arrest already? Going a little further away from them, Jesus threw himself onto the ground as if to plead with God.
The Passion of Jesus is the darkest of struggles; a time of personal turmoil, that all humanity can understand. As surely as the cock crows in the morning, human beings know the confusion and fear of wrestling with difficult decisions. What should he do? Should he leave Jerusalem quickly? How could he continue to preach the good news of God’s expansive grace if he is captured? How could he bring wholeness and healing if he were killed?
Mark’s gospel puts exact words into Jesus’ mouth, when it is obvious that most of the inner turmoil of Jesus must remain a mystery. Still the oral tradition that was handed down claimed that Jesus did not want to die. That the Gospel stories reveal such a human Jesus, is God’s grace indeed, for we are right with him in his fear death!
When Jesus returned to the three he found that they had fallen asleep. It was very late, after all, and they had just filled their bellies at the Seder, but sleeping disciples couldn’t have been very worried about enemies attacking in the night. Fear and adrenaline would have kept them alert if they had believed the predictions Jesus had made. Perhaps they thought he was talking metaphorically or referring to some distant future.
Jesus called to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay awake and alert with me for one hour?” Jesus (or the author) reverts back to calling Peter by the name of his former life as if nothing had really changed for Simon since he joined Jesus’ band.
Two more times Jesus went away and prayed, and as surely as the cock crows in the morning, his disciples had to be awakened each time Jesus returned. Now, if Jesus had found me sleeping, I think I would have at least tried some excuse, but the story was told that the sleepy disciples didn’t know what to say to Jesus. Had they finally learned to keep silent and not make matters worse?
(What do the sleepy disciples represent for you?)
Suddenly the scene changes from that of a lonely personal struggle to a rioting mob. The disciple who had left dinner early finally re-joined the group. The gospels gave this disciple the name, Judas, which translates into English as “Jew” as if all Jews, in the form of this one man, had betrayed Jesus.
The disciple who had offered to lead the authorities to Jesus, came with a crowd carrying swords and clubs. Scholars Borg and Crossan insist that this crowd was probably a group of temple police or temple soldiers; a small military force that the Romans permitted the temple authorities to enlist when needed. John’s gospel probably exaggerates just a bit saying they were a group of six hundred imperial soldiers.
If the infamous kiss was not just another anti-Jewish contrivance, it could have been that this was a group of hired thugs who wouldn’t have been able to recognize Jesus on their own.
When a couple soldiers finally laid hold of Jesus to arrest him, as surely as the cock crows in the morning, violence erupted. Jesus tried to calm the crowd asking, “Is such a show of force necessary? Did you have to come with swords and clubs in order to capture an unarmed and peaceable teacher of God? Am I a bandit? Why didn’t you arrest me in the temple?
As Jesus is led away into the hands of the Roman authorities, we are left with the haunting images of his first disciples. One, for reasons we will never know, had parted company with Jesus awhile back it seems. But did the man realize that his actions would lead to Jesus’ death?
Three of them had slept through those last agonizing hours before his arrest; time when questions of life and death were in the air; time when Jesus could have been escaping to a safer place. Perhaps they couldn’t bring themselves to even imagine the things that Jesus had predicted.
The other eight disciples ran away into the hills as Jesus was led away. They all deserted him, fearing, as surely as the cock crows in the morning, that they too could be arrested; perhaps telling themselves that they couldn’t help Jesus if they too were captured.
Wherever and whenever we see people suffer from oppression, we witness again the passion of God for God’s creation, revealed in the life of Jesus. Jesus asks us, at such moments, to stay awake, alert and watchful; to be present with those who suffer in their dark hours.
Whenever we are tempted to limit God’s mercy, we must be careful that we don’t betray Jesus with our own kiss. Whenever we are tempted to run in fear for our own lives, we must turn around long enough to watch the innocent being led away.
Thanks be to God that we can see Jesus alive in the world; Jesus revealing a faith that does not deny human doubt, fear or confusion in the face of inevitable struggle; but continues to shun violence and hold on to truth and justice, to the very end, as surely as the cock crows in the morning.
Posted 2 months, 3 weeks ago. Add a comment
Barbara J. Campbell, Pastor
The question of the “Rich, Young Ruler,” a story that appears in each of the synoptic gospels, brings up again this nagging issue of inclusivity. This question seems to be everywhere; in every age of human development, in every religion, in every social order. Who’s in and who’s out? Who is good enough and who isn’t good enough, to be included in this or that group or understanding. The focus of the question here is fairly important to lots of people. The question here is not only about the “how” of inheriting eternal life but ultimately about “who” will inherit eternal life.
Immediately before this question, the gospel writers tell of Jesus acting and speaking as if children knew more about God’s kingdom than anyone else. Jesus went as far as to say that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it!” I wonder how many listeners might have whisper, “How could that be? They don’t go to synagogue! They can’t even read the Torah! Many can’t even recite the commandments!”
This whole thing of including everyone, women, children, the unclean, or the Gentiles, into God’s kingdom was confusing to the disciples. Still, we rather like these soothing, reassuring pictures of Jesus welcoming the most vulnerable, naïve, and uneducated in their communities, especially the little children. That’s an image that leaves most modern readers feeling all warm inside, until “The rich, young, ruler,” (the name that combines the three different adjectives used by each gospel writer) arrives with a question about eternal life.
“Good Teacher, What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
In a couple of weeks, on Easter Sunday, the pews in most Christian churches will be unusually full of folks with the very question on their minds. And before we start to feel to “self-righteous” because we sit in the pew a bit more often than some, I think we need to admit that perhaps unconsciously the same question may even plague good St. Markers at times. “What must we do to inherit eternal life?”
The question of finding eternal life is what draws most people to church, after all. It’s just that we all interpret what that eternal life looks like a bit differently. For many Christians the traditional understanding of eternal life and the thing they come to church to “get” is reassurance in that broad idea of “heaven;” the assurance that death is not the end; that our mortality and the mortality of our loved ones, does not leave us with nothing; but that there is something more beyond the grave.
For some the concept of eternal life also or only includes a quality of life in the here and now; the idea that our physical existence might always be filled with that which is life-giving, life-affirming, or life enhancing. The question in that case may be more like, “How can I believe and behave in such a way that my life makes more sense, is more fulfilling, is more whole and centered?
The Younger Testament is full of references to “eternal life” but, in all these references, I couldn’t find one definition of what the “eternal life” they spoke of meant. There are stories of how to get it, where you might find it, and who might give it to you, but the “it” is never explained.
The only descriptive element that I could uncover in scripture was that it could be part of the present, not just the future. In John, Jesus seems to be speaking about a present reality when he prays, “And this is eternal life, that they may know God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
John and other Younger Testament authors explain that “eternal life” can come through belief in Jesus, or as the gift of God or through the work of the Holy Spirit. John’s gospel says that when Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well one day, he promised to give her water that would not simply quench her thirst for a while but become a spring of water gushing up to “eternal life” and later that Jesus said, “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. Water? Light in the darkness? Some pretty good images perhaps for eternal life…
Here’s a question that will titillate the trained theologians in our community but maybe the self- trained can give us some simpler wisdom. “How do you understand the concept of eternal life?” What words or images come to mind for you?
Easter has become the ultimate definition of “eternal life” even though that term does not come up in any of the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion and empty tomb. If I were to preach to an anxious Easter crowd about “eternal life” I should probably use texts that refer more specifically to how we inherit it.
Such a sermon would be complicated by the fact that scriptural texts are not consistent on the subject. Divine justice was always a central issue of faith, but even in the first century, people differed as to whether that justice was enacted in this life, in the assumption to heaven, in a resurrection, or in the ongoing life as an immortal soul.
The only thing to do would be to look at what the people remembered Jesus saying about “eternal life.” So, to a rich, or young, or ruling elite, Jesus said that inheriting eternal life required only a few simple things: Keep the commandments. Sell all you own and distribute the money to the poor. And follow Jesus.
Other rabbinic teaching stated that a man should not give away more than one fifth of his possessions during his lifetime lest he become a public charge, so the man may have begun to wonder if he should get a second opinion on his question.
When the same question was asked earlier in Luke’s gospel by a lawyer, Jesus responded saying “What is written in the law? What do you find there?” and the lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus says to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” So the lawyer’s question quickly changed to “Just who is my neighbor?”
These weren’t exactly the answers the men had been expecting. To the lawyer Jesus tells a parable about compassion and to the rich, young, ruler, Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.”
Even though “the eye of the needle” was a common euphuism for “a very small opening,” some have consoled themselves with the knowledge that there was also a very small gate somewhere in antiquity once called The Eye of the Needle that a very small and agile camel might have been able to squeeze through, so all hope is not lost.
Luke’s gospel gives his audience similar assurance, when the eye of the needle sounds far too discouraging and they cry out, “Then who can be saved?” saying, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
Becoming like children also seems like a hard task, especially without any clear directions as to how to do it or what that would look like. Entering through the narrow gate, the eye of the needle, seems equally impossible. If following the law and doing what is right is not good enough to save us, to make us right with God, to insure we can inherit eternal life, then we get very nervous.
We are right beside good ole brother Peter when he blurts out, “Look, we’ve left our homes to follow you!” I wonder if Peter didn’t hear a hint of sarcasm in Jesus’ voice when Jesus totally agreed with Peter, saying, “Yes, you certainly did those things and everyone like you who leaves homes, and wife, and brothers, and parents, and children, behind will certainly gain even more back now and, in the age to come, eternal life,”.
Today we are celebrating the lives of two particularly faithful followers of Christ who are great examples of the kind of sacrificial giving Jesus expected. St. Patrick and Pope Francis, disciples who knew what it meant to live their lives giving everything the had in compassion for the poor and suffering. But we are not saints or popes, are we…
“Leaving behind all that we love dearest to follow Jesus, now that’s just asking too much of us!” Yeah, a real sermon about “eternal life” will never fly on Easter. The reason Easter is so popular, I guess, is because we prefer to think that Jesus died so that we wouldn’t have to do all those things.