Not So Ancient: Reflections on Institutions, Widows, and Discipleship

32nd Week of Ordinary Time
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Mark 12:38-44

This week’s lectionary gospel (Mark 12:38-44) gives us the familiar story of the “widow’s mite.” Most times I’ve heard this preached as a story of immense generosity on the part of the widow – and we who are followers of Jesus are asked to go and do likewise, to give all we have, even to the point of giving our whole lives over to God. Of course, giving our whole lives is what Jesus does – and so we can make a connection between the widow’s example and Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection – she becomes an example for us to emulate. Read more

Fear and Hospitality

EP endorser Kelly Johnson recently published some reflections on “Overcoming the Fear of Beggars” over at Catholic Moral Theology. As we pray and grieve and wrestle with how we might respond to the events of the past week, her words are especially timely:
“Overcoming the Fear of Beggars”
Photo Credit: Us News & World Report

Covenants Have Legs

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Ruth 1:1-18 (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)
Psalm 146 (Psalm 119:1-8)
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been thinking some about the notion covenant lately, or perhaps it’s because it’s simply obvious, but when I read the lectionary for this week, I couldn’t help but notice that both the primary and alternate texts presuppose or allude to God’s Covenant with Israel. Among the root senses of the Hebrew word for covenant, b’rith, is the act of binding oneself to another. God binds Godself to Israel, and asks Israel likewise to bind itself to God and become God’s partner in the ongoing work of lovingly restoring the original peace of our broken Creation. That God invites a people – Israel, and by extension, the Church – to be part of this work suggests that the Covenant “has legs.” Read more

To Heal the Sin-Sick Soul


Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 or Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

“…most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.”
-David Bentley Hart

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

In a 2016 essay in Commonweal, Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, described how translating the New Testament drove him to the distressing conclusion that Jesus and his early followers meant – and lived – what they said about the dangers of wealth. As one would expect, defenders of wealth as an intrinsic good, unhappy with Hart’s essay, wrote strongly-worded rebuttals Hart, well known for his erudition and verbal cantankerousness, leaves few readers neutral about his message or person. His work typically includes something to make everyone unhappy, but while other theologians may reject his arguments and interpretations, they rarely dismiss him as uninteresting. He’s not the sort whose work is readily neutered into comforting pablum.

His point in the essay is that’s precisely what Christianity has done to texts like this Sunday gospel reading, turning the demanding communal practice of material poverty into a spiritualized individual attitude, a change of thought rather than a way of life. Hart, like me, knows this sin from the inside. Indeed, most Christians in the global North who write against making this gospel demand safe for the modern consumer stand convicted by their own words. What I call voluntary simplicity looks unimaginably opulent to the roughly one billion fellow humans currently living on less than $2.00 per person per day. Read more

Humility Beyond Sin Management

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 10:2-16

Today’s Gospel reading is one of those most preachers would rather avoid because even with the best exegesis it is a difficult passage, especially with divorced members sure to be present in any congregation. The question of divorce was no less problematic in Jesus’s day, and it was for just this reason that the Pharisees wanted Jesus’s take: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Read more

Implicating Prayer

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
James 5:13-20

The little boy seemed perfectly formed. Five years old. His tanned skin contrasted sharply with the crisp white sheets, and hinted of summer fun around the pool, maybe rides at the local carnival. But something had gone terribly wrong. Unknown to anyone, he had carried a hidden, ticking time bomb in his chest since the day of his birth, and one day as he played with his brothers and sisters, it detonated. When I got there the breathing machine and the drips and tubes were simply marking time. He was gone.

His parents’ preacher had come in the night before, talking big, staking a claim for the boy’s recovery. Faith would raise this child up, he said, and the only thing that could ruin the boy’s healing was lack of faith. The preacher was home in bed when the child was pronounced dead, which was a good thing, because several of us present around that bed would have welcomed a few minutes alone with him. Instead we were left to watch, and wait, and weep. Read more

Good Work

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 31:10-31

The world has a helluva time imagining women as subjective beings apart from a relationship – or worse yet, their vaginas’ utility – to men. See: #metoo, rape culture, using women’s bodies/body parts to market all variety of products, marketing to women. Ironically, being in a relationship with a man while I was in college didn’t protect me from sexual assault by another man. And it’s a prejudice that I felt anew when I bought a house after I got divorced. Read more

Setting Your Mind on Divine Things

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
Mark 8:27-38

Wisdom is saying some weird things, and quite publicly too.

In my tradition, we follow the semi-continuous readings from the Old Testament as outlined in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Season After Pentecost. Unlike the lectionary readings during such seasons as Easter and Christmas, the first reading and psalm are not chosen to jive with the readings from the New Testament. But there is a certain convergence in these readings for this coming Sunday, which is perhaps not so surprising given that they are all biblical texts. Read more