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Learning, Knowing, Doing, Being

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Last week the Pew Research Center made big news when its latest poll revealed that religious people don’t know much about religion. (Atheists, though, according to the survey, are pretty savvy). Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof offered his own pop quiz, which, according to my unscientific calculations (counting the number of Facebook confessions), a whole lot of people flunked.

This news is instructive as far as it goes. Having spent a good deal of time thinking, reading, writing, and teaching about Christian formation and catechesis, I’m not surprised that life-long church-goers know so little about the history and development, the context and content of the Christian tradition. Not that it’s really their fault. When I teach, say, the history of Methodism or the liturgical year to lay people, they can’t get enough of it. They wonder where this stuff has been all their lives. Clergy don’t teach or preach it much; Sunday School is about other things, sadly. Read more

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Unchained Word

Mark’s Jesus is in a hurry, John’s Jesus is in control, and Matthew’s Jesus does parables. Luke’s Jesus forever crosses borders. This time, the border lies between the boondocks of Galilee and the enemy’s homeland, Samaria.

Nathanael – or any right-thinking first century Palestinian Jew – needn’t ask if anything good comes from Samaria. One might as well spout nonsense about a “good Samaritan,” or a “good Al Qaeda.”

This week, the border also divides clean from unclean. Unlike the encounter in Luke 5, this text doesn’t mention Jesus touching lepers, but the precedent’s set, he’s in unclean territory already, and now there are ten of them.

When they beg for mercy, Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” One of the ten, it turns out, is a Samaritan, whose reception by priests might be compared to CIA headquarters welcoming Osama bin Laden. Read more

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Proper 21: Not Enough For Everyone’s Greed

Amos 6:1, 4-7; Ps 146; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

When I read passages like those in this week’s lectionary I find myself saying, not unlike the Pharisee in Luke 18, “God, I am thankful I’m not wealthy.” Of course, not withstanding the fact that I am quite comfortable and generally don’t go wanting for what I need, these scripture passages invite us into something much deeper than the matter of money; something that will challenge our way of living no matter the contents of our bank account. The lectionary passages this week invite us to a reorientation toward a life of radical dependence. Money is of course a major obstacle toward the realization of this dependence, but other resources such as degrees or physical ability or social status could just as well be stumbling blocks against living in the reality that God feeds us when we are hungry, vindicates us when injustice is done to us (Ps. 146:6). Read more

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Dives’ Sin of Omission


Scripture Reflection: Catholic Lectionary (Amos 6:1, 4-7; Ps 146; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31)

In my “Poverty, Wealth, and Justice” course, students still read Jonathan Kozol’s 1995 bestseller, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, which includes the author’s interviews with children in Mott Haven, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the South Bronx. It is striking how many of these kids bring up theology in their reflections, including David: “’Evil exists,’ he says, not flinching at the word. ‘I believe that what the rich have done to the poor people in this city is something that a preacher could call evil. Somebody has power. Pretending that they don’t so they don’t need to use it to help people—that is my idea of evil’” (23). Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, according to 2009 census data, one in five children in the U.S. continue to struggle below the poverty line. At the same time, New York Times op-ed writer Paul Krugman observes how America’s rich are raging about having to pay taxes, because “a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it.” If any of these wealthy Americans also consider themselves to be Christians, this attitude stands in stark contrast to the theological meaning of the offering during Christian worship, which reminds us that all we are and all we have is from God—and that we are called to be good stewards, for the sake of others, of what we have. Read more

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Redeeming Shrewdness

Eugene Peterson observes that the story of the dishonest manager ranks as our least favorite of Jesus’ parables. What is there to cozy up to in a story where cheating goes unpunished and cunning is seemingly commended? Are we to use money to buy friends the way we buy objects for consumption?

Can Jesus truly be recommending such scandalous behavior?

But the scandal we hate in this story is precisely the scandal we love in the immediately preceding parable. Artificially separated by a chapter divide, the parable of the dishonest manager is actually meant to be heard alongside the parable of the lost son, most beloved of all the parables. Read more

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Signs, Sheep, and Shepherds

Luke 15:1-10

Our church’s logo is a shepherd’s staff, based upon the parable of the lost sheep, along with Psalm 23 and the Good Shepherd of John 10. We’ve had this shepherd’s staff with our congregation’s name written beside it out front on our sign since 1979 and it is on our letterhead, Sunday order of worship, and website. This shepherd’s staff is a constant reminder to us and to others of our vocation – who we hope to be and are called to be. More than that, it always reminds us who God is.

Our congregation began in 1968 as a gathering for lost sheep, black sheep, burned-out and beaten-up sheep, with a few old goats thrown in, as well. A lot of us were lost, but here, by the grace of the Loving Shepherd, we’ve been found. Furthermore, because of our own experiences, we have sought to make this congregation a body, or flock, where other lost sheep can find a home. Read more

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Buckle Your Seatbelt

Over 60% of teenagers admit to having texted while driving.

Someone is injured in a car crash every 14 seconds.
Car accidents are the leading cause of acquired disability nationwide.

The risks of traveling by automobile are tremendous, and yet most people drive or ride daily.  Why would we do such a thing?

We have decided to get in the car because we have more important things to do than live in fear of the road.  We have to shop for groceries.  We have to take the kids to school.  We have to get to work. Read more

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Jeremiah and Park 51


Jeremiah 2.1-13; Psalm 81

Over the last few weeks, the media has been abuzz with the news of Park 51, a proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque just a few blocks from ‘Ground Zero’ the site of the national catastrophe of September 11, 2001. The planned mosque has been met with a firestorm of opposition. Demonstrators have gathered along the proposed site to guard the memory of a national tragedy. The demonstrators frequently invoke Ground Zero as sacred ground and chant their protests while holding signs asking ‘Have you forgotten?’

Others have argued that those who would use the mosque have a right to public prayer and worship and that allowing Park 51 to go forward would be a celebration of freedom and thus an appropriate memorial for those who died in the 9/11 attacks. For our purposes, choosing a side is not as important as recognizing what both groups seem to have understood, namely, that memory matters. Read more

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Being Grounded

Sir 3:17-29; Ps 68:4-11; Heb 12:18-24; Lk 14:1-14

When I was a child, getting “grounded” was a form of discipline imposed on me by my parents. From my perspective then, it was something to try to avoid. However, both the book of Sirach (which Jesus, son of Eleazar, says was written by his grandfather Jesus Ben Sira) and the Gospel of Luke emphasize the importance of being “grounded,” though admittedly in another sense of the word. That is, as New Testament scholar Barbara E. Reid, O.P. has noted, these two readings convey proverbial wisdom about the virtue of humility, which is “earthy” or “grounded” wisdom (humility is derived from the Latin humilis, which is derived from humus). During dinner at the house of “a leader of the Pharisees,” Jesus noted the seating arrangements whereby persons occupied “the places of honor, which is the opposite of what they ought to do. “But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place…. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (14:10-11). Here Jesus echoes Sirach, “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself…” (3:18). Rather than endeavoring to climb the social ladder by sitting with people of higher status, it is better to be grounded by spending time with “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14:13), seeing from their perspective and identifying with them. Read more

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Gather Us In


Catholic Lectionary: Is 66: 18-21; Ps 117; Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 ; Lk 13:22-30

The processional hymn for my wedding eight years ago was “Gather Us In,” written by Saint Louis Jesuit Marty Haugen. It’s always been a favorite for my wife and me. “Gather us in, the lost and forsaken; gather us in, the blind and the lame.”

E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) originally was a central theme of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament. According to scholar Gerhard Lohfink, the “gathering” of the scattered is a key biblical term for the event of salvation. As Depaul University theologian William T. Cavanaugh puts it, “Salvation in the Old Testament is not about individuals trying to gain admittance to a place called heaven after death; it is about gathering people in communion, thereby restoring the good creation that sin and violence have torn apart…, [and the] theme of gathering does not change in the New Testament; the only change is that the promises of the Old Testament are said to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” Read more