flower in rocks

Wasteful Miracles

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65
Romans 8:1-11 OR Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23

With two millennia of practice, Christians have nearly perfected the art of explaining away Gospel demands. Excuse-making is, after all, a human strong suit, and it’s not easy to stop doing what you’re really good at.

A modern variant of the “that’s nice, but it doesn’t apply to me” excuse stresses how different our lives are from those of first century peasants. Farmers, shepherds, and fishermen are, for many of us, abstractions invisibly at work somewhere beyond our personal experience, black boxes in the grocery store supply chain, while the few among us who farm or fish for a living know better than to throw precious seeds along a rocky path, leave ninety-nine percent of the stock loose and unwatched while searching for a stray, or toss nets over the oarlocks and hope for the best without benefit of engines, fishfinder, or radio.

In contrasting my busy, technologically sophisticated modern life to sentimentalized myths of agrarian simplicity, I construct all the distance I need to miss the point – and missing the point is, after all, the unacknowledged point of much contemporary scripture study. I like to imagine that I would never be so wasteful and inefficient as the benighted peasantry of Jesus’ time. Read more

GiottoTriumphalEntry

(Mis)Remembered Words

This week’s post is a reflection originally published in 2011. -

Zechariah 9:9-10; Matthew 11:25-30

In an October 13, 1813 letter to his former political rival, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson described his work on a short book, The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. This was Jefferson’s own distillation of gospel texts, in which he meant to include, “the very words only of Jesus,” while eliminating all elements Jefferson deemed irrational.  Jefferson assumed the parts he found superstitious were simply the result of ignorant men who misremembered or misunderstood Jesus’ “pure principles.”

When he was done with his editing, Jefferson wrote, “There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.”

He later completed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, a unified narrative of Jesus’ life cut from the New Testament with all mention of miracles, angels, prophecy and resurrection edited out. Jefferson privately shared his compilation with friends, but declined to have it published in his lifetime. Read more

cead mile failte

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Is It You Again?”

 

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 10:40-42

When I first began attending mass several years ago, I was struck by the kind of welcome I received. Or, rather, the kind I didn’t. Raised in the over-eager Protestantism that hovers and fawns over every guest at worship (a well-meaning practice; I’ve engaged in it myself), Catholics were noticeably cool, it seemed—a little distant, even.

This wasn’t (and isn’t) calculating or conspiratorial on their part—nor on mine now as a Catholic. Any given group of parishioners at any given mass is not following a script about how to treat newcomers to the liturgy. And I don’t mean to suggest an absence of warmth or kindness; I’ve never experienced that in a Catholic church and I hope I’ve never communicated it. But I do think that the Eucharist—week after week, year after year—trains worshipers to know, even if they don’t or can’t articulate it theologically, that it is not the people or even the priest who does the welcoming; it’s Christ who does so.

All of us—long-timers and first-timers alike—are Christ’s guests, receivers of his gracious welcome. Read more

Godfather_puppetmaster

Hating the Godfather

Proper 7, Year A

Matthew 10:24-39

The Godfather, the classic 1972 film by Francis Ford Coppola, opens with a garden wedding at the family estate.  It is a homecoming for Michael Corleone, the favorite son who’s just returned from a tour in World War II and is enrolled at Dartmouth.  The picture is clear early on—Michael loves his family, but he doesn’t want to be a part of it.  The Corleones are a crime organization and they are as tight knit as they are patriarchal.  They have a culture all their own, an import of Sicilian semi-feudalism where powerful families are essentially rulers of small fiefdoms—thus the idea of the godfather.

Michael wants to live a more Americanized life with an American girl.  He wants to be a part of a different kind of social order than the one in which he was raised.  And yet the whole drama of the film is the dissolution of this ideal.  Michael is drawn back into the life of his family and its social order and realities.  He ends up replacing his father as the Godfather.  If only he had hated his father and mother, his sister and brother, a little more.

The teachings of Jesus we find in the Gospel reading for this Sunday are hard, unsettling verses. It’s difficult to imagine Jesus as some peace preaching proto-hippie with a sentence like Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” If we are going to be Jesus followers we can’t hope to just all get along with the ways of the world.  Division and strife, Jesus tells us, will be the marks of the coming of his coming.  Jesus didn’t come into the world to bring peace by settling all of the social relationships of the day; he came to create a Kingdom in which authentic shalom—overwhelming peace and wellbeing—would be possible.

Jesus is following Jeremiah here in dismissing the kinds of peace that does not change the fundamental violence of the way things are.  “Everyone is greedy for unjust gain,” Jeremiah proclaims, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (6:13-14).  As Stanley Hauerwas puts it, “Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order.  ‘The family that prays together stays together’—but such sentiment cannot help but lead to an idolatry of the family.”

Jesus is calling for us to see God as our Father, the community of disciples as our brothers and sisters.  He is calling us to move into a different identity than the one we are given at birth by our family and our society.  We are a military family, we are a patriotic family, we are Southern family—these identities won’t stand.  Our only hope is that our biological family will join us in the new family of God.

Jesus is paraphrasing the verses of Micah 7:6 in this teaching on the strife that will come to families.  This is part of a passage in which Micah is describing the dissolution of society.  It is there that he speaks of the break down of the family, but his response isn’t to say lets work on restoring family values and teaching kids to respect their parents.  Instead, Micah goes on to say, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (7:7).  In other words, the solution to the break down of society isn’t to restore and reaffirm the social order.  It is instead to have our lives reordered by God.

So what does this look like for us?  Jesus certainly isn’t instructing us to go start a fight with our parents or pick a conflict with our brothers or sisters.  He is only calling on us to enter into his way and life, to join the family of God.  If we do that he is simply warning, strife will come and you will have to bear your cross.  It might be that we choose to leave a corrupt family business or one that works to destroy the world, it could be that we find that we have to quit our jobs because of its exploitation of people or the creation, it could be that by simply living a life that doesn’t worship money we find that others take offense.  The conflicts aren’t ours to choose, they are simply the admission price of following the Prince of Peace into his eternal, just and beautiful Kingdom.

If you want to see the alternative just watch The Godfather Trilogy.  In the end Michael Corleone dies a violent, lonely death—his soul and body broken.  What life could he have had if he had chosen a different kind of belonging, if he had chosen to live for God rather than the Godfather?

 

trinity

Life Together

Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4
Matthew 28:16-20
2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Read in concert, the lectionary passages selected for Trinity Sunday serve up a message that builds upon itself like a well-planned progressive dinner party.

I’ve never had occasion to participate in one, but it sounds fun. You gather a group that travels together to eat at different homes for the evening. Various members are in charge of hosting a particular part of the meal. At the first stop, you enjoy appetizers and drinks, for example. The host at stop number two has prepared a main course, and stop number three features dessert.

A plan is helpful to ensure a coherent and palate-pleasing experience. The menu at each home should stand on its own, but also complement, build on or reference the others.

Welcome to a delectable party – Bon appétit! Read more