Easter Lily 4666

Don’t Be Afraid



The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:9-15 (RCL); Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 (LM)
Psalm 67 (RCL); Psalm 67:2-8 (LM)
Revelation 21:10- 22:5 (RCL); Revelation 21:1014, 22-23 (LM)
John 14:23-29

“When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought us by our savior will be fully realized, for all [people] will be united with one another through their union with the one supreme Good.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa,
from a homily on The Song of Songs

In a wide-ranging conversation with Bill Moyers early last year, writer Marilynne Robinson spoke about fear in American life. With eloquence and insight (and no little exasperation), she noted how we have managed to convince ourselves—or, rather, how we have been persuaded by powerful interest groups—that fear is really courage.

We fashion, she said, “little narratives” that make each of us the hero of an imagined drama and anyone else a potential threat. And all the ways in which we prepare (expect? secretly hope?) for our fear-driven stories to unfold constitute something of an addiction, a cultural obsession, a collective pathology.

Robinson’s insights are as timely as ever these many months later. Why is America’s culture of fear taken as a matter of course? Read more

christ disputing with the doctors mazzolini

Holy Family Values

Luke 2:41-52
First Sunday after Christmas
Feast of the Holy Family

I once lost my younger son in a department store.

He was a toddler, chubby and unwieldy on his feet but, man, did he disappear in a flash. For the two or three minutes it took to find him (an eternity in such situations), my heart was in my throat. The dread was as unbearable as the relief was palpable when I finally found his impish, grinning self.

This weekend offers something of a holiday smorgasbord liturgically: the First Sunday after Christmas, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the Commemoration of St. Stephen, and the Feast of the Holy Family. There is a wide array of readings and alternate readings, too.

For churches using the text from St. Luke’s gospel, we’ll hear that the infant Jesus is now twelve years old and has gone missing in Jerusalem. Despite the decorous prose (“your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety”), we can imagine the unbearable dread and palpable relief when, after three days (not three minutes), his parents find him safe and sound.  Read more

Widow's Mite - Ancient Roman Bronze Coins

A Widow’s Shame and Ours


Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17 (RCL); I Kings 17:10-16 (LM)
Psalm 127 or 42 (RCL); Psalm 146:7-10 (LM)
Hebrews 9:24-38
Mark 12:38-44

For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.

Mark 12:44

By the time we get to the familiar text in this week’s Gospel reading—sometimes referred to as the story of the widow’s mite—Jesus has made his so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem. More street theatre and political satire than victory parade, the festivities end with Jesus casing the temple late of an evening. He returns the next day and turns over a few tables, infuriating the religious authorities and confounding everyone else. He enters the temple a third time on the third day (a detail not extraneous to Mark’s purposes, we might suppose), and offers an accusatory parable. Pharisees and Herodians are dispatched to trap him; they find themselves amazed instead. He bluntly tells some Sadducees: “you are wrong . . . you are quite wrong.” Third up are the scribes, for whom Jesus reserves his most caustic criticism:

Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.

Jesus then takes a seat “facing” (kateanti) the treasury. This detail, too, seems deliberate on Mark’s part: a short while and a few verses later Jesus will “face”—the same word in Greek—the temple mount as he foretells its imminent destruction (13:3).

From his choice seat, Jesus carefully “scrutinizes” (etheōrei) the scene, observing “how the crowd put money in the treasury,” and noting that “many rich people put in large sums” (41).

Just the day before he had directly attacked the temple establishment so we might assume he’s still seething a bit. Not because a sacred place had been profaned by commerce—the temple was an economic institution as well as a religious one. Rather, Jesus is scandalized by the exploitation of the poor in their attempts to participate in Israel’s cultic life.

But his anger at what he sees in the temple treasury has a sharper focus. He has just depicted the scribes—the temple lawyers—as not only religious hypocrites but also as abusers of their fiduciary power: “they devour the houses of widows.” (40) Read more


Nativity Politics

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12
Lectionary for Mass

Welcome home, my child.
Your home is a checkpoint now.
Your home is a border town.
Welcome to the brawl.

“Song of the Magi,” Anaïs Mitchell

They are as familiar as any in the cast of characters that make up the mash-up we know as the Christmas Story.

The “wise men from the East” in Matthew’s gospel join the shepherds and angels found only in Luke to populate children’s Christmas pageants everywhere. With tinfoil crowns on their heads and festive tablecloths draped over their tiny shoulders, solemn preschoolers reverently place wrapping-paper-clad boxes at the feet of makeshift mangers. Parents and grandparents sigh and chuckle. Video and still shots are posted to Facebook before “Silent Night” has been sung and happy applause has been rendered.

Christians high-church and low have ritualized these stories (even as they have conflated them) in this very recognizable and much-beloved form. And why not teach children (and others) in such ways—through embodiment, performance, spectacle?

But for those who may be weary of the inevitable kitsch of this rite of passage, and perhaps especially for those who wonder if the whole nativity narrative isn’t just another fairy tale, it’s worth noting how the story of the wise men in Matthew (and also of the shepherds and angels in Luke) is rooted not in cuddly cuteness but in the politics of domination and costly resistance to it. Read more


Rocking the Boat

Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +9

Genesis 37:1-4Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45bRomans 10:5-15Matthew 14:22-33

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2008.


I’ve been following a blog debate over at www.theolog.org [ed. note – this blog is now part of http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs] between a scientist of some sort, hostile to religion generally and Christianity particularly, and a pious defender of the faith. In my view, neither has been very impressive in articulating his case against the other, and the back-and-forth accusations and “gotcha’s” and outright vitriol have only escalated as the debate has gone on (and on and on). I tried briefly to weigh in on it earlier this week, calling for a little charity and humility from both sides, but, like a sister trying to pull her two brothers off each other in a backyard brawl, I was roundly ignored. Lesson learned.

The gospel text from Matthew 14 this week strikes me as the kind of passage over which science guy and defender guy would go at it, arguing past each other all the while—as they have been doing all week. The ghostly Jesus walking on the water is too much for the rationalist to take in; it’s laughable, even—easy pickins. The mocking denial of such an archetype biblical image of Jesus (and the sacrosanct truth it represents) is scandalous to the defender’s deeply-felt piety. You can almost hear defender guy quoting Jesus back at his opponent: “You of little faith, why do you doubt?” (14:31). Disagreement. Accusation. Counter-accusation.


What to say about such a text when there are probably many science guys and defenders guys (and gals) in our congregations? Whose side does the preacher take? Read more