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

Eichenberg

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

Sheep

Learning to Live Like Sheep

The Reign of Christ
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Ezekiel 34:11-17, 20-24
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 OR Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Not everyone loves the desert. I do.

Circumstances led me to another home, but the desert remains the landscape of my heart. Like a former lover turned dear friend and counselor, it refreshes my spirit whenever I return. It was in the high desert of the Navajo Nation that I awakened to the practical significance of images so resonant for the desert-dwellers who wrote the Bible.

To see a line of cottonwoods, their green leaves trembling in the faintest desert breeze, proclaim how deep roots find life-giving water, is to know the faithful confidence of “a tree planted by a river.” (Psalm 1:3, Jeremiah 17:8)

To watch a Navajo boy guide a scattering flock of Churro sheep across a busy desert road, is to feel in one’s belly the patient loving-kindness of a shepherd. (Psalm 23, John 10:1-18, and today’s readings)

But to watch sheep in action is also to grasp that being called “the sheep of His flock” is no endorsement of human intelligence. For all their wooly cuteness (more apparent at a distance than up close) sheep are distressingly stupid. With the attention span of a Mayfly that’s misplaced its ADHD meds, sheep show inexhaustible creativity in wandering from safety to needless peril.

Which suggests, based on my embarrassing familiarity with human folly, that we’re not only called to be sheep. Indeed, in ways few care to admit, most of us already are sheep. Read more

Head of Christ

The Unfairness of God’s Justice

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

The twentieth century political philosopher, John Rawls, summarily restated his most famous work, A Theory of Justice, as “Justice as Fairness.” Many who know little of his learned, complex argument may have heard of his “Original Position,” the thought experiment that serves as creation myth for Rawls’ social contract.

Rawls asks his reader to imagine a meeting where all parties choose a common social structure from behind a “veil of ignorance.” No one knows his/her/its origin, history, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, talents, abilities, or conception of the Good. This artifice, Rawls believes, forces participants to choose the basic rights and duties of citizens impartially, rationally, and fairly — and Rawls confidently tells us what they will decide.

Many of Rawls’ subsequent conclusions are appealing, but his starting point strikes me as a progressive “just so” story. For Rawls, it seems, people emptied of nearly every personal quality will nevertheless share his late twentieth century bourgeois liberal values.

This week’s lectionary readings envision a radically different universe. Read more

Picnic_basket_01

Questions for a Picnic

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 8:35-39 OR 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

What does is mean to be fed, to not know when or how our bodily needs will be met, yet to wait in confidence that food will come? How do we grow so confident of being fed – and fed well – that we follow Christ into the desert? What do we learn from having our dependence on the grace and love of another made so obvious, so public?

Why was the story of the feeding of the five thousand (“not counting women and children”) so important to the early church that it appears in all four gospels, with a reprise – for four thousand – in Mark and Matthew? What are we to learn from such unexpected abundance? Why are being taught and being fed central acts of Christian worship? Read more