The Hemorrhaging Woman

Mark 5:21-43 (Fourth Sunday After Pentecost)

(Image: Holy Spirit Dance, Gwen Meharg, watercolor.)

When we read the story of Jesus healing the hemorrhaging woman (or a leper or a paralytic or the demon-possessed), it’s tempting to see only the private moment—a two-person encounter isolated from the larger social order.

But these meetings—while they are personal and often quite intimate—are also confrontations: they are conflicts between an old order and a new one; between a religious system rooted in purity codes and the fear of bodies (women’s especially) and an alternative social practice meant to signal God’s coming reign of wholeness and well-being.

The encounter between Jesus and the hemorrhaging woman is this kind of confrontation, this kind of conflict. First, the woman approaches Jesus—a social and religious taboo of the highest order. Not only will she render Jesus unclean by coming into contact with him, she will compromise the purity of the whole group. Read more

Not By Sight

Mark 4:35-41

What to make of this short, dramatic tale of wonder and power? Jesus tells his followers to “cross to the other side,” a phrase which, in English, is full of associations Mark’s rough Greek may not sustain. Is this merely a simple boat crossing or a prelude to the passion, a window on death’s terror?

A storm comes over the water – suddenly, as desert weather will. The Son of God is asleep, undisturbed by the drama of crashing waves and a boat not far from being scuttled. His followers shake him awake, anxious to know if he cares. Read more

Just a Kid. Just a Seed. Just a Church.

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

He was just a kid, so young and apparently insignificant that his own father didn’t consider him worthy even to attend the sacrifice offered by the traveling prophet Samuel. Sure, he was good looking, and he was tough, and he had some talent, but by and large everyone who knew him assumed he’d spend his days as an adult the same way he’d spent those of his adolescence: tending sheep, playing with his sling, writing poetry, and playing music. He was hardly a suitable replacement for a great warrior like Saul. Yet David, the least of Jesse’s sons and the unlikeliest of leaders, was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to be King over God’s people Israel.

It was just like the God of Israel to do something so totally unanticipated. He had, after all, chosen to redeem the world through the as yet unborn descendants of a pair of skeptical senior citizens named Abram and Sara. When those descendants were enslaved and oppressed by the mightiest political, economic, and military power the world had known, He called upon a hot-headed, inarticulate fugitive named Moses to take up their cause and lead them to freedom. Read more

The Trinity and THE SHACK

If you are a savvy and astute reader of Trinitarian theology who can elucidate the fine distinctions between, say, Augustine and Origen or Moltmann and Marshall or Zizioulas and LaCugna, you may or may not be up on the latest (actually, the only) treatise on the Trinity to capture the popular imagination: a little self-published tome called The Shack.

But you should be. Not because it’s a good book—it isn’t. But because, as indicated above, its sales are in the stratosphere. It is loved—fiercely loved—by an astounding number of Christians of all stripes.

The Shack has struck a chord, I think, because most people have not learned much about the Trinity from their participation in church life—or at least they think they haven’t. (“Trinity Sunday,” in an odd way, keeps the doctrine of God’s triunity remote, exotic, and “special”—something to be observed this one day of the year and expounded upon with clunky analogies). Read more

Apokatastasis and the Birthday of the Church

Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:22-27; John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15 (Pentecost Sunday)

One of the first things that I remember learning as a seminary student in my introductory class on Church history was the word, apokatastasis. The word, which is Greek, most simply means “the end will be like the beginning” and is most commonly used to refer to the idea of a universal restoration of creation. At the time, we first year students cataloged this word away along with a long litany of other doctrines and heresies that comprised the first 1400 years of church history, ready to proudly (if not arrogantly) pull it out alongside other useful information such as the meaning of communicato idiomatum, why Augustine really stole those pears, and the gruesome tale of Abelard’s castration at the next party to show just how enlightened we were. I hardly think that any of us at the time assumed these words and stories would have any relevance for the day-in, day-out life of parish work in any church we’d ever serve. Yet as I read these lectionary texts for Pentecost Sunday, it seems to me like the word apokatastasis speaks directly to what is happening in Jerusalem some 50 days following the Resurrection. It is a word that the 21st century Church might do well to recover. Read more