mercy justice

Where Mercy and Justice Meet

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 2:18-24 OR Job 1:1, 2:1-10
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

The readings this Sunday are thickly planted with pastoral land mines. Even the revised common lectionary, which typically supplies a kinder, gentler Old Testament alternative to the Catholic selection, offers a passage from Job with a theologically problematic encounter between God and Satan and an unkind reference to women. You decide if that’s safer to preach on than God’s fashioning the woman from the man’s rib. Happy is the preacher observing World Communion Sunday this week.

God knows – and we take as a matter of faith – that Scripture is meant to help and unite, not hinder and divide, but these selections have often been sources of discord. They are hard readings some have used as weapons, particularly against women. They are interpreted differently between and within churches and denominations, dividing the Body of Christ into a host of fractious camps and labels: liberal from conservative, progressive from traditionalist, “accommodators” from “fundamentalists.” Dangerous texts, indeed.

What makes them dangerous is that they touch bedrock aspects of our personhood: bodies, gender, sexuality, and intimate relationships. Many current (and former) Christians conclude that the Church has selectively misinterpreted such passages across the centuries, mercilessly enforcing literalist readings of scattered passages while ignoring behaviors the scriptures more forcefully and consistently condemn: ignoring the poor, harming a neighbor, withholding hospitality from strangers. Agree or disagree, the challenging task remains: how do we, as a Christian community, read these texts together? Read more


The World We’ve Made

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

Hontar: We must work in the world, your eminence. The world is thus.
Altamirano: No, Señor Hontar. Thus have we made the world… thus have I made it.”

-Robert Bolt, The Mission

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
-William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Whatever your opinion of Barack Obama, you can’t deny the last full week of June was kind to him, climaxing on Friday as he celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage and delivered a moving eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, killed in the terrorist attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

I’ll let others dissect the political implications of Mr. Obama’s recent good fortune. I’ll likewise refrain from comment on the same sex marriage decision. I have good friends on both sides of that issue, some of whom – again on both sides – have been treated quite shabbily by those with whom they disagree. This week’s readings point through the news to something deeper.

What might it mean for North American Christians that the first mixed-race President of the United States spent a morning in June, 2015 cheering a political milestone for gays and lesbians, and that same afternoon eulogizing an African-American man murdered, along with eight others, because of the color of his skin? This ought to matter. Even in an era of much-discussed church decline, the world in which these events occur is – for good or ill – much as we have made it. Read more

Good Shepherd

No Weapon But Grace

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

One morning, when my daughter was about four years old and deep in another “Daddy is Doo-Doo” phase during which my wife’s presence was infinitely preferable to mine, she called for her mother from the comfort of her own bed. My wife was in the shower and unable to answer, and the tone of my daughter’s voice quickly escalated from polite request to imperious demand. Even today, when I think of my now nineteen year-old daughter, I hear Helena, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying, “though she be but little, she is fierce.”

I stepped to the threshold of her room and peeked in to reassure myself that my daughter wasn’t in distress, but that was too much for her. She sat bolt upright from her pillow, glared at me with what I recognized as her “evil stare of death,” and bellowed, “Not you again!”

I took it on the chin that morning – at least verbally – but my daughter and I laugh about that encounter now. She’s an accomplished young woman with astonishing emotional intelligence, and if she hasn’t lost her knack for tactical ferocity, she knows I’m on her side and rarely, if ever, bares her teeth in my presence.

I thought of that morning as I read this week’s readings and said, less emphatically than my daughter, “Not sheep again!” I’ve shared my feelings about sheep here before, drawing on memories of my days on the Navajo Nation. I don’t begrudge the little critters their place on earth, though they’d likely vanish as a species without humans forever saving them from peril. For this week’s readings, however, I attended less to the dumbness of the lambs than the witness of the shepherd. Read more

Isenheim Altat

Becoming Human

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday

Mark 11:1-10
Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

“So far as being human goes, the only difference between Jesus and me is that he lived out his humanity more consistently than I do.” – Herbert McCabe

Those who dismiss Christianity as a comforting myth are inattentive readers of Scripture. They can’t, for instance, have read Mark’s gospel in anything but a superficial or tendentious way.

Mark’s Jesus dies horribly, nailed to an imperial torture device, abandoned by his male disciples (though not by some of the women) and even, his words imply, by the Father. He’s buried hurriedly, and if the original text ends, as in the earliest complete manuscripts, at chapter 16, verse 8, with the women trembling, bewildered, and afraid at the man in white in the empty tomb, we’re left wondering why Mark should call his account “Good News.” Yet this first gospel records, along with the letters of Paul, the earliest surviving declarations that this human, Jesus, is the Christ, Son of Man, anointed one of God.

Mark’s Son of Man isn’t merely human, but he is profoundly human. He is, in fact, the model human, the One we are called to follow. Mark shares much about Jesus’ humanity, including that he eats, sleeps, spits, walks, touches, and suffers temptation. In this week’s readings, we learn still more. Read more


Assumed and Healed

Baptism of the Lord

Genesis 1:1-5 OR Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 19:1-7 OR Acts 10:34-38
Mark 1:4-11

Mark’s characteristically spare account of Jesus’ baptism tells us little about the encounter between Jesus and John. We don’t learn if Jesus joined the riverside queue waiting to be dunked or suddenly presents himself to a wading John, but we get some sense that Jesus’ arrival is both anticipated and in need of explanation. Why does he undergo baptism of repentance?

Have we’ve heard the story too often to grasp its strangeness? Jesus, like us in all things but sin (see Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15), joins the sinners’ ritual of publicly displaying need of forgiveness. Read more