Jesus Begins to Build a Team

This meditation is on Jesus’ calling of his 12 closest disciples. There are different, conflicting stories in the Gospels about this. Ignatius, like so many other theologians, attempted to shoehorn the stories together into one cogent version. This never works well. Mostly, because the four Gospels were written by different people, at different times, and for different purposes. We cannot simply assume that there is one correct way to describe the calling of the Twelve. The text wasn’t written to be a mashup. So I’m not going to treat it as such.

So, how can one meditate on a single story when the accounts vary so much? Again, I have to trust God the Holy Spirit to direct my imagination. These texts, like the others we’ve visited, have a lot of wiggle room for our imaginations to fill in the holes..

The texts I used are from John 1:35-50 & Matt. 9:9-10.

Because of the length of these stories, I’m going to divide them into a couple posts. I hope you hang in there with me! 

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means ‘Teacher’), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you sill see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was  to find his brother Simon and tell him, “we have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about  in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus answered, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” (John 1:35-50) 

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,: he told him, and Matthew got up  and followed him. (Matt. 9:9-10) 

After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he returned to Galilee. However, instead of going to his family’s home in Nazareth, he went to Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. One day as he was walking and praying, he found himself near the place where the upper Jordan River flows into the Sea. John, his cousin, was baptizing there. As Jesus passed, John said to some of his disciples, “Look! That’s the one I told you about! The one who I saw the dove come to! He is the Lamb of God!”
Two of John’s disciples left John and ran to catch up to Jesus.
“Rabbi!” one of them called. “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
Jesus turned and said, “Come on! I’ll show you.”

They walked together until they came to where Jesus was staying. The three men sat on cushions around a low table. Food and drink were brought to them. As they ate the bread and cheese and drank the wine they talked and laughed. Jesus asked them to tell him about themselves.

The first, a man named Andrew, said, “We are fishermen. But, when we can we help John. A lot of people come to him. Too many for him to care for by himself. So, we help keep people organized and moving. Plus, his words. They are different than the words of our synagogue leaders’. They seem to carry power, or even a life of their own. There is strength and truth behind what he says. So, when he pointed you out as being even greater than he, we came to see for ourselves what he meant.”

Jesus just nodded and smiled while Andrew spoke.

After a while, Andrew said that he knew someone who he had to introduce to Jesus. He left and went to find his brother, Simon. He found him near the boats they used for fishing. Simon was a few years older than Andrew. Of the two brothers, Simon was the serious one. He focused on his work and performed it well. So, when he saw Andrew, he shook his head. As far as Simon was concerned this ‘business’ with the Baptizer was a distraction. Andrew should be here working, mending nets, getting ready to go out to earn their living.
“Simon!” Andrew called. “Simon! Come see! We have found the Messiah!”
Simon just rolled his eyes and shook his head again. “Right, another distraction,” he thought.
Andrew took Simon’s arm and began to pull him along.
“Come on, Simon! I’m not kidding! Even the Baptizer said so. We have found the Anointed One!”
“Ok! I’ll come! But, you will need to come back after we meet your ‘Messiah’ and help with the nets. These holes won’t mend themselves!”

The brothers made their way back to Jesus. Simon was still not happy and his face showed it.
When they arrived Jesus looked up and laughed for Simon had a face of stone.
“Don’t look so serious!” he said. “I know! You, Simon son of John, will be called Cephas, the rock!”
All of the men laughed with Jesus.

Jesus was excited. His eyes were bright and he had a broad smile on his face.
“Brothers! Listen to what I have to say. God is doing a new thing in Israel. He is preparing to build God’s own kingdom. Right here! Right now! You’ve heard about the Day of Jubilee in the synagogue. Well, this is it! And, we get to be a part of it!”
“We’ll gather the children of Israel together under God’s banner,” he continued. “The Lord will again raise His mighty hand in acts of power! Just like when God led our people out of Egypt and into the land of Promise. We, too, will lead people out of the slavery and bondage of sin and death into a new land of Promise. Truly, truly I tell you, it will be a land where God reigns over all!”

The men who were with Jesus soaked up every word of Jesus. There was a new fire in their eyes. Like young men everywhere, they longed for adventure. And, Jesus was offering that.  Peter, however, sat quietly with that serious look on his face. Being older than the rest, his reaction was tempered by age, experience, and a sense of responsibility that the others didn’t have.

However, even Peter was convinced by the words of Jesus and chose to follow him. Fishing for people…cool!

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The Wilderness

This meditation is derived from the story of Jesus when he went into the wilderness after John baptized him.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,: he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord you God, and serve him only.’”
Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matt. 4:1-11)

Jesus followed the dove. It led him away from towns and people. The way was difficult. There was no road. Not even an animal trail was visible. After a few hours, even the dove flew off.

Jesus realized that he was utterly alone.

Eventually, he found a small cave. Inside he was protected by the oppressive onslaught of the sun’s heat. He also found a small spring near the back of the cave. He drank a little and lay down. In this world, night and day must be inverted. Jesus slept during the heat of the day. At night, when it was cool, he would go outside to seek God.
In the silence of the wilderness the days blended so there was no beginning, no end. Just day after day after day. Jesus wondered how he could have gone from the feeling of joy and elation he experienced at the river when he heard that voice from heaven to this total emptiness. The sky was like bronze that his prayers simply bounced off of.

During the waking nights he tried to understand what was happening. He watched the moon wax, wane, then wax again. He began to despair.
“Maybe I should just go home,” he thought.
“Tomorrow,” he heard himself say.

The next day he prepared to leave. “If I keep the morning sun on my right I will eventually find a town.
As he left the cave he saw a man approach. He was an old man, ancient looking. He had a long robe with blue and gray stripes. His hair and beard were long and white. Deep wrinkles were etched into his face. His left hand, spotted skin drawn taught over bone and veins, held tightly to a wooden staff.
When he drew closer he introduced himself simply as “an old wanderer.”
“Who might you be?” the old man asked Jesus.
“I am called Jesus, the son of Joseph. I have also been called the Son of God,” Jesus replied, remembering that voice at the river.
“You look hungry!” the man laughed.
Jesus noticed the whiteness of the man’s teeth as he laughed.
“If you are the Son of God, why not make these rocks into bread so that we can eat?”
That suggestion brought the story of the ancient Israelites to Jesus’ mind. God had provided bread, manna, for them to eat. Why hadn’t God provided for him? Why had they been fed and he left hungry and uncared for?
After a few moments, Jesus replied, “It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The old man smiled. He realized that his words had caused an inkling of doubt to arise in Jesus’ mind. A small chink that he could take advantage of.
“Good answer!” the man said. “Come! Walk with me!”
As they started the man lifted his staff and stamped it on the ground.
Suddenly, they were on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The old man took Jesus’ arm and led him to the edge of the Temple complex overlooking the Kidron Valley.
“What do you see?” the old man asked.
Jesus looked out over the countryside. “I see the valley and the Mount of Olives. There is smoke from Bethany. I see a road winding down the hill into Jerusalem filled with people coming and going.”
“Ah, yes! People!” the man exclaimed. “Lots of people down there. And, look! More people up here!”
“Cast yourself down!” he continued. “For, it is written, ‘He will send His angels to lift you up so you won’t even stub your toe!”
“And, the people! All of them will see and believe that you are truly sent from God!”
Jesus considered the old man’s words.
“Yes, it would certainly be sensational,” he thought. “But, it would also turn everyone’s eyes to me.”
Jesus didn’t completely understand God’s purpose for him. But, he did believe that at least part of that purpose was to point the way to God.
No, making a spectacle of himself was not the way.
“It’s also written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test!”
The old man simply smiled and stamped his staff again.

Jesus found himself back in the wilderness…alone.

The sun was setting as Jesus sat down to consider what had happened that day. Why had he even considered the words of that old man?
“I’m tired and hungry, that’s why,” he said aloud to himself.

The night came and the moon began its ascent into the sky. Jesus looked out across the barren landscape.
Suddenly, he saw a light in the distance. As he watched, the light came nearer, growing larger as it approached.
It had the shape of a person. But, there were no features. No eyes; no nose; no mouth. Fear gripped Jesus as the shape came to him and put his hand on Jesus’ arm. Immediately, they were on top of a high mountain. The being waved an arm out and suddenly Jesus saw great civilizations before him. There were cities full of many different kinds of people. Large buildings and pyramids. There appeared before him great stores of gold, silver, and precious stones of every size and hue.
The light creature did not speak, but Jesus perceived its thoughts.
“This is all mine! I will give it all to you if…”
“If what?” Jesus wondered.
“If you will do one. small. thing. for me. Knee, here, before me, and worship me.”
Anger arose within Jesus.
IT IS WRITTEN,” Jesus spat out the words, “You SHALL worship GOD, and God ALONE! Go away from me, Tempter!”
Jesus found himself back in the wilderness. There was no sign of the creature.
There were, though, others there. A fire had been built and food was being prepared.

For the first time since leaving the river, Jesus felt the presence of God.


The folks who divide up the Bible by the various stories call this one something like “Jesus is Tested in the Wilderness” or “Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness.” In fact, the antagonist in the story was named ‘the Tempter.’
As I reflected on this I realized that for something to be a real test, or temptation, there would necessarily be the possibility of failure. Theologians throughout the ages have tried to paint Jesus as a super human who could withstand all of the fiery darts of Hell. Even the way the story was written seems to lean that way. For every attempt to tempt Jesus had a matter-of-fact kind of response. It was like he was saying, “Hey, that’s it! Hit me with your best shot.” This image of Jesus doesn’t fit well with the temptation narratives in the Gospels. So, as I meditated I considered how Jesus, the son of Joseph, might really have acted. Like I’ve said throughout, I am searching for a person with whom I can relate. A bigger than life Jesus is not that.
In the story I saw Jesus weakened by hunger and loneliness. He was susceptible to the tests that came his way. Including one I added, giving up and going home. The Tempter also saw Jesus’ weakness. He put tasks before him that were relevant to Jesus’ condition. And, Jesus struggled. He questioned and doubted himself.
But, in the end, he passed the test.
In my prayer after this meditation I asked about how temptations and tests might come my way. After all, even Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” The reply I received was of course testing and temptation would find me. I rue this because my track record has been dismal when it comes to tests. But, like I wrote earlier, if there’s no chance of failure, there is no true test. On the other hand, with testing comes the real possibility of success. We are not tested in order to trip us up, to accuse us when we don’t do well. Tests come so that we can see our progress and confirm our calling. Untested faith is no faith. Jesus found that out by walking through them and emerging on the other side victorious.

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The Baptism of Jesus or Jesus Gets Dunked

This meditation is base on the following text:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus and two of his brothers were working in the carpenter shop. They were busy forming wood implements for the people who tended the gardens around Nazareth. As he worked, Jesus’ mind was somewhere else. A thought kept nagging him. “There is more than this.” Whatever ‘this’ was. Jesus had noticed his interest in the family business had been faltering for quite some time. It wasn’t that carpentry wasn’t fulfilling. It was. But, that thought would not go away, “there is more.”

Eventually, Jesus decided it was time to act. He knew that his cousin, John, had become some sort of holy man. People went to hear him speak and to be baptized. This wasn’t all that unusual in Israel. There were many so-called holy men who claiming some kind of anointing. But, John seemed to be the real deal.

Jesus packed a few things and told his mother and brothers that he was going to see John. His brothers were not happy.

“Who’s gonna run the shop?” James asked. “We’re pretty busy, you know. We could use your help!”

“This is something that I must do,” Jesus replied. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone. Until I get back, you’re in charge of the shop. Take care of mother.”

James could tell by the look in Jesus’ eyes that this was not an argument that he would win. He simply waved him off and turned away.

I met Jesus on the road outside of Nazareth.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
Jesus answered, “To see the Baptizer.”
“Why do you want to go that far to see someone standing in the river?” I asked.
“I’m not entirely sure,” was all he said.

His response caught me off guard. Why would someone want to travel this distance without knowing why?

Jesus continued, “I’ve always had a desire to know the God of my people better. While I am a member of the community and study Torah, I’ve had this one thought that nags me.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“There is more,” was all he said.

As we walked we talked about other things. I found that he did not hate the Romans like practically everyone else.

“The Romans are not the problem here. Yes, they are oppressive and cruel. But, they are more of a nuisance, kind of like these flies that buzz around our heads. No, the real problem lies within us. There is another place, another ‘kingdom, if you will, where our heart desires to live.  How to find that place is the real issue.”

We arrived where John was baptizing. There were a lot of people milling about waiting their turn to feel the cool water of the Jordan River cleanse them. Jesus turned aside and found a large rock to sit on.

“Look at them,” he said. “Chasing a hope; a dream.”
“They work and slave to put food on their tables. They go to synagogue and listen to some career Rabbi read from the scrolls. He tells them that God has chosen them as God’s ‘special’ people. God has great plans for their lives. And, they believe it. Then, they go back to their mundane lives.”
“Then, someone like John comes along. They all run out to receive some kind of ‘special’ anointing.”
“They say, ‘If only he will lay his hands us and wash us! If only he will pray for us! If only…’”
“Promises are made to them. ‘Just do what we tell you and you will be truly blesses! Don’t forget the offering container on your way out!’”
“Poor, blind fools!” He said.
I detected sadness in his voice.

We walked down to the river. Jesus mingled with the people there. He was comfortable with them. And, they seemed so with him.

He was asking why they had come. There were many answers given. But, the one thread that seemed to run through all of the answers was that they all desired “more.”
‘More’ God.
‘More’ money.
‘More’ blessing.
‘More’ more.
And, they all thought that this time they would actually get it.
Jesus leaned over to me and said, “And, tomorrow when they wake up they’ll still be looking for ‘more.’”

Finally, Jesus walked down to John. John looked up at Jesus and smiled. “You should be the One who baptizes me!” he said.
“No, cousin” said Jesus. “This is your time I am here to be washed with all of these others.”
John nodded and laid Jesus back under the water.

As soon as Jesus came up, a white dove lighted on his right shoulder. He took it in his left hand. He suddenly realized why he had come here.

We heard a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son. I am very pleased with you.”

Jesus put his hand on John’s shoulder and smiled. Walking up out of the river, Jesus kissed the dove and released it.

He turned to me and said, “It’s time that I left you. The next part of this journey is for me alone.”

Jesus looked up and found the dove flying above. He pulled his cloak up to cover his head and followed the dove toward the wilderness.


In the first several meditations the stories followed Jesus’ life as a child. Most of the action is done to him, rather than by him. The last meditation on Jesus at the Temple began to transition from infancy to manhood. In this current meditation, and in the several that follow, Jesus is doing things. He is thinking and acting. However, the texts we have don’t give us a complete picture. They are snippets. This was how ancient hero stories were written. There may be an infancy story just to get the person born. After that, the writers touched on some main points to make their argument for why the person was heroic. Then, they climax with the one event that truly reveals the hero. That’s a pretty simple way to explain what we have in the Gospels. But, it’s not inaccurate.

One thing about these kinds of stories, or ‘lives’ as they’re called, is that they leave a lot out. There are scant details to help us really discover what the hero is thinking. This ambiguity allows us to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. In this meditation I begin by considering the fact that Jesus was not fully aware of who he was nor of his life purpose. He is on a pilgrimage, not unlike many of us. We are searchers for many things. I believe that Jesus was, too.

Jesus is at the place in his life where he seems to finally get a glimpse of his calling. At this point he is revealed as the Son of God. He is the One in whom God is well-pleased. From this point Jesus begins to live into that identity.

And, from this point we’ll begin to know him more. I hope.

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Jesus: Preparing for Manhood

This is part 2 of the meditation on Young Jesus. The first part contained the passage from the Gospel According to Luke that this meditation is based on. You can see that post here.

Jesus ran to his father.

“Father!” he exclaimed, “Supper is ready!”

Joseph put his tool down and wiped his hands on a nearby rag. He walked up the stairs and into the house. He washed his hands and took his seat at the table.

“Thank you, Lord, for these provisions for us, your people. Amen.”

As Joseph sat on his cushion eating his bread, he looked around the table. There was Mary, his wife. “My how she has grown into a wonderful woman!” he thought. A smile came to his face. He saw his sons James, Joses, and Judas sitting on his left. On his right was Jesus, the eldest. Joseph thought about their life together as a family. Jesus had been born, what, 12 years ago now. “I remember him helping his Mother with chores. Setting the table and cleaning up after meals.” When James came along, Jesus, although still a babe himself, tried to help care for him. He has always had a heart to help others.

Through the years Jesus had indeed shown himself helpful. He studied hard at the synagogue. He helped his friends with the lessons. That is, when they weren’t wrestling and playing in the street! As the eldest, he was expected to follow in his fathers footsteps. So, he spent his days learning woodcraft at Joseph’s side. He learned how to cut and fashion wood into plows, tables, and chairs as well as wood structures and buildings. In fact, Rome was planning to renovate and fortify a town about 4 miles north of Nazareth. Sepphoris! There would be good work for Joseph and Sons.

Jesus grew up with a keen sense of empathy. He did not compete with his brothers for the affections of Mom and Dad. He was a quick learner. But, instead of saying, “Look at me! I’m so smart!” he would always strive to help others to learn. This was especially true during this, his 12th year. He and the other 12 year old boys in the area were preparing to become “Sons of the Commandment,” or B’nai Mizvah. They would officially come of age. All of the responsibilities for them that their parents had held during childhood would come to rest on them.

It was spring again. Time to go up to Jerusalem for Pesach. The festival when the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gathered to celebrate the night that the destroying angel had ‘passed over’ the homes of the Hebrews when they were slaves in Egypt. That night when their firstborn lived and those of Egypt were taken. It was the festival that marked the day Pharaoh, king of all Egypt, was humbled before the One True God. He had been forced to free God’s people.

So, Joseph and the family joined with other families in a caravan. Family, friends and neighbors all giddy with excitement got ready to set out on this yearly adventure. They all walked, rode, and sang their way south to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they set up camp outside of the city near the Mount of Olives. Pilgrims from all over Palestine, from all over the world, were gathered. Friendships were renewed. They sang the words of Miriam’s song and danced. Ah, the festival had arrived!

While the adults prepared the camp, the boys ran off to play among the olive trees. They chased each other and climbed the trees. Some of them took off their shirts and wrestled. Kids will be kids!

On the day of the festival they all walked across the valley and up to the temple mount. The head of each household went to buy their family’s portion of the lamb that had been sacrificed and prepared in remembrance of that night so many centuries ago. Joseph and his family took their portion back to the camp to celebrate. Jesus’ youngest brother began the ceremony and asked, “How is this night different from all other nights?” The story of God’s act to free Israel from slavery would then be told. This was the heart of Judaism as it continued to beat day after day, year after year, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm….

Joseph and the others remained in Jerusalem the following day so they could celebrate the Sabbath. The day after the Sabbath they began to pack up to head back to Nazareth. The caravan began the long journey home.

That evening they stopped and prepared the evening meal. When all was ready, Mary called for the family. Joseph and the youngest boys returned. But, where was Jesus?

“Jesus!” Mary called.

No response.

Joseph and James got up to look for him. “He’s probably with some of his friends where he can’t hear us,” Joseph said.

They looked all over for Jesus. No one had seen him since early morning.

Finally, they realized that Jesus had been left behind.

“He’ll be OK,” Joseph reassured Mary. “He’s nearly a man. He can take care of himself until we get back.” (At least Joseph hoped so.)

The next morning Joseph and Mary left the three youngest with a relative and started back to Jerusalem. When they arrived they searched the area where they had camped. No Jesus. They went into the city and searched through the market and at the houses of people they knew. Still, no sign of the boy.

Finally, they decided to go to the temple to inquire of God for their son. When they arrived, they found Jesus sitting with the elders and teachers. He was questioning them and answering their questions. The elders were astonished that this young boy had such wisdom and insight. Mary went to him and said, “What are you doing? Don’t you know that your father and I have been worried sick about you? We have been searching all over Jerusalem for you!”

Jesus looked at her and said, “Why were you looking all over Jerusalem? Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?”

The teachers and elders looked approvingly at the boy. Mary, on the other hand, was not so approving. She took him by the hand and they left the temple and returned to Nazareth.


We forget that Jesus was a kid from a back-water town in Roman Palestine called Nazareth. It’s all too easy to deify him. We see the paintings and statuary with the Babe Jesus blessing people. There is an account in one the the so-called Gnostic Gospels where Jesus transforms clay animals into real ones.

This story, however, shows Jesus acting like a typical 12 year old boy fitted perfectly into his time.

Jewish custom taught that at age 13 a boy came of age. He was now responsible for himself in the eyes of the community. He became a ‘bar Mizvah,’ a son of the Commandment. To prepare for this a child would spend his 12th year learning the Scriptures and the Law. In my story that training happened in the local synagogue. The writer of Luke doesn’t mention that. But, he does write that Jesus was found at the Temple with the teachers and elders. He was preparing for his passage from childhood to manhood.

At the end of the passage that Mary “treasured these things in her heart.”

Jesus continued to mature and grow in wisdom and stature among his people. Soon it would be time for him to leave and find his own way. But, that’s a story for another time.

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Young Jesus at the Temple

We briefly meditated on some of the events of Jesus’ birth. Now, I want to take us on a brief side trip to the Temple at Jerusalem when Jesus was a young boy. This meditation is based on text from the Gospel according to Luke.

I am following the actual text with a brief explanation of why I think that these types of meditations can have real meaning. Later this week, I’ll share the meditation from this text.

Luke 2:41-52 (NASB)

41) Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the
Passover.

42) And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast;
43) and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it,
44) but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances.
45) When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem looking for Him.
46) Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
47) And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.
48) When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.
49) And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”
50) But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.
51) And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52) And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.


It’s important to remember that the purpose of these exercises is to learn to know Jesus better in order to love him more. That’s a difficult endeavor. After all, Jesus died 2,000 years ago. I’m sure that many of you have heard the statement, “dead men tell no tales.” But, the New Testament does tell a tale. It is the story of a young man who lived and loved passionately. He had a special place in his life for those who dwelt on the margins of society. The sick and infirm; the hungry and poor; the oppressed and rejected. These were the people he was drawn to…and, who were drawn to him.

At the end, the tale seems to grow taller. This young man was cruelly put to death by the Roman occupiers of his homeland. He was buried in a tomb. Three days later, so the story goes, he came back from the dead. He was seen by many others who later attested to this miraculous event. Then, he was gone. There are many people who try to say where it is that he went. The consensus opinion is that he went to a heavenly paradise where he lives to this day.

If there is any veracity to this tale, then perhaps it is possible for us, today, to get to know him. Of course, it’s easier to get to know folks on Facebook. At least there we can see text and images that real flesh and blood people share. We can’t know Jesus that way. We can only know him through something that the ancients called ‘faith.’ That’s a really hard word to get a handle on. So, let’s change it a bit. The New Testament was written in a form of Greek. The word that was used to express ‘faith’ is the same word that was often used to denote ‘trust.’ So, let’s say that we can know the person, Jesus bar Joseph, if we trust him. If we trust that when we use our minds to enter the stories as participants or observers, Jesus actually guides us. How does that work? Well, what do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino? But, I trust. I truly think that as I insinuate myself into the stories, Jesus somehow shares a bit of himself with me. He allows me to know him a little better. And, the more I get to know him, the more likely I am to follow him.

Yeah, it’s a convoluted process. It depends on thinking somewhere outside the box. But, for me, it’s reality.

And, I’m sharing a bit of my reality with you. A part of me hopes that I can introduce the human Jesus to you. Not that theological, otherworldly myth created by the church. You know, the one where Jesus stands with his finger on the ‘Smite’ button. Ready to squash any so-called sinner or heathen for the slightest misstep. But, the Jesus who touched and healed a blind beggar. The man who released people from the bondage of disease and death. The person who loved his friends and literally gave his life so that they could live.

I want to introduce you to Jesus, my friend.

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From Nazareth to Bethlemhem

This is part two of the Nativity meditations. This one is about the journey that Joseph and Mary took from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea for a census that Rome had decreed. Part one is here.

It was early spring in Galilee. The early rains had been good and the crops were beginning to break through the surface of the rich earth.

Joseph made arrangements for he and Mary to travel to Bethlehem in Judea. Judea! All that way just to make Rome happy.  What a pain! It was one of the busiest times of the year for the young carpenter. Plows and tools needed to be fixed. There were carts and wagons to prepare. And, there was talk of rebuilding the town of Sepphoris about 4 miles north. But, is any time really a good time for Rome’s nonsense?

Mary wasn’t looking forward to the trip, either. She was nearly to term with her firstborn. Childbirth was hard and dangerous for any woman. It was especially so for a girl barely beyond childhood herself. She would be leavingf her family and the other women who had supported her throughout the pregnancy.

“Take plenty of towels and clothes.”
“More blankets would be better.”
“Don’t let those ‘men’ tell you how you feel or what you need to do!”

Mary would miss them hovering over her.
So much to remember! So much to do!

Joseph put Mary into the cart he had arranged. She could not walk that great distance. And, riding a donkey? Not hardly in her condition! The pack animal was laden with the food, water, and other essentials they would need. Joseph said goodbye to his friends and led the animals down the road.

At the edge of town the young couple met the person who had helped make the arrangements. He was a short man with a gray-flecked beard and a quick smile. He looked like the typical person who didn’t do ‘real’ work for a living. But, he had a gift for bargaining and had an eye for details.

“Hello, my friends!” he called to them. “The soldiers are here and the others from Capernaum will be along shortly.”

The soldiers were from a local Roman garrison. Several of them were going to new assignments in Judea. The man had talked with a Centurion and arranged this trip so that his group could have the added protection. Although the trip would not take too long, the road was fraught with danger. There were bands of thieves and Zealots who had no problem robbing and killing unwary travelers.

Joseph and Mary had traveled South many times for the festival at Jerusalem. They joined with family and friends to sing and dance.  The events of that night so many long years ago were remembered. No, more like reenacted.  Their ancestors had sacrificed lambs and sprinkled some of the blood on the door posts and lintels of their homes in Egypt.The angel of death then ‘passed over’ those houses. It was a time to celebrate and remember that God had chosen them for God’s own people! And, for the children? The trip was a great adventure!

This time was different. There was no celebration to look forward to. Joseph was now a responsible adult. He was about to become a father!

The afternoon Galilean sun was brutal. So, they traveled during the cool mornings and evenings. Progress was slow. Mary had to stop often to ‘relieve’ herself. Pregnancy was not all fun and games! The soldiers mocked that Jewish woman with the weak bladder.

“C’mon woman! We don’t have all day!”
“Carry a bucket!”

As these men laughed and mocked, Joseph and the others did their best to hide their hatred for these invaders. Yes, they brought a kind of peace to Palestine. But, at what cost? Their freedom?

The caravan followed a road that went through Samaria. They could follow the main trade route and pick up the road from Caesarea Maritima. That would take them to Jerusalem. From there it was only a few miles further on to Bethlehem.

At night they would stop and make camp. Several small fires sprang up. Clay pots clanked as they were brought out for the evening meal.  The women began to prepare the meal while the men tended to the animals and made up the camp.

The soldiers moved off by themselves. Joseph could hear their coarse joking and laughter.

After they ate and cleaned up, someone lead them in saying the Shema. Another began singing one of the Psalms of Ascent. Those sacred verses that had been sung by countless pilgrims on their way “up” to Jerusalem.

As they turned East on the road to Jerusalem, Mary started to worry. A few times along the way she had experienced pains and cramps that told her the child was becoming impatient. Some of the older women noticed and stayed close to her. This road was no place for a child to give birth to a child!

The caravan finally arrived at Jerusalem. There were people everywhere! Shops were open and the keepers stood outside calling to any who would listen.

“Come in! I have the best and purest oil for your lamps!”
“Chickens! I have chickens that are the tenderest and tastiest anywhere! Hey! You travelers! Come and buy! These will sustain you on your journey for many days!”

Some  said goodbye to the young couple. They had ancient roots here. The soldiers also went off to the garrison near the Temple mount. Joseph and Mary turned to the road that would lead them West out of Jerusalem then South to Bethlehem.

Soon they saw the town. Although it was small, Bethlehem boasted of being the burial place of their ancestor Rachel. She was the beloved wife of the Patriarch Jacob. It was also the hometown of the greatest King to ever sit on the throne of Israel: David! Oh, to have a King like him again! Not some lackey like Herod. That half-breed was nothing but a Roman puppet.

In their hearts, every person in Judea and Galilee hoped and prayed for the day when Adonai, the Lord, would raise up the promised Son of David. This Messiah King would return Israel to its former glory and strength.

“Hear, O Israel…”

Joseph took Mary and the cart to the center of town. He saw a well and a few shops. He inquired about the location of a certain family, relatives of his. Someone directed him to a small home near the edge of town. When they arrived, Joseph called out, “Shalom! I am Joseph bar Yakov! I have come with my wife for the census!”

A man came out looking rather put out at this interruption. His gray beard matched the scowl on his face.

“Joseph? Son of Jacob? I know a Jacob who had a son who was a little brat! Always chasing the animals and making a nuisance of himself. But, you! You are a grown man! How can this be?”

“Uncle!” cried Joseph.

A big smile broke out on the old man’s face and the two men embraced and kissed. It had been a long time, nearly a year since they had seen each other.

Joseph helped Mary climb out of the cart and presented her to his Uncle Elihud. Others flowed out of the house and a great welcome was made.

After many hugs, kisses and slaps on the back, the young parents-to-be were taken into the house and upstairs to the living quarters.

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Greetings, Mary!

This is the first meditation on the Nativity that I wrote about. It’s a story that I envisioned as I followed the prompts of Ignatius. This one focuses on what the Church has called The Annunciation, the calling of Mary to be the mother of Jesus.

I heard a loud call from above. Looking up, I saw a great eagle flying in large loops. Leisurely, he floated on the currents of air, rising and falling like the terrain before me. As I watched, it seemed as though my mind was floating, like the eagle. Higher and higher it rose until I was looking out at the world through the eyes of my friend far above.

“Wow! Look at this! I can see forever!” I thought.

We began to fly faster. In and out of clouds, the landscape far below became a blur. I saw rivers and lowlands slowly morph into the checkerboard of cultivated fields of wheat and maze. A sudden updraft carried us into a range of mountains. Alpine forests gave way to snow capped peaks. Dark slices of granite cut its way out of the white world where nothing grows.

Soon we dove nearly straight down toward a small town at the base of the mountains. There were people and animals going about their daily business. Sellers and buyers, traders and farmers. Simple folk. Living life as their forefathers had taught them.

Without warning we were suddenly flying over a large city. What a diversity of people! So many colors and smells. Merchants in their stalls calling out to anyone who would listen, “Come here! We have the most exotic cloth from the far reaches of the world! Come see! Come buy!”

Others were herding animals through narrow streets to sell to those who sold hides and meat. So many people! Laughing, crying, loving, and dying. Humanity.

I also saw many…too many…who were on the margins. Those destitute multitudes whose lives were truly without hope. Poverty and disease stalked them like wolves stalk sheep. They were helpless victims of systems that ostracized them because they were somehow “different.” They looked different and they sure smelled different! Not everything is rosy in this world.

Suddenly, I was standing in a large room with thousands of other beings. It was brightly lit and there was singing throughout. In the center of all of this there was a round table at which three beings sat. One clearly had the shape of a person. But, this person seemed to be the very source of light in the room. Next sat someone whom I can’t describe clearly. He or she did seem to have a feminine quality. But, beyond that I could not tell. The third was simply there. This one seemed to be “Being” itself. No gender, no age, no anything that I could tell for certain other than “Presence.”

I saw scenes like I had just experienced with the eagle. People. Everywhere. But, these people seemed to be walking aimlessly. They simply wandered around as if lost.

“It’s time,” I heard the Third Being say.

“Yes,” the others agreed.

I heard what sounded like a trumpet and suddenly there was another being standing next to the table.

“Gabriel,” the First One said. “It’s time for you to go and prepare for my departure. Hurry!”

This other simply nodded and was gone.

“It has begun.”

I blinked, and found myself on a hill outside of a small village. On my left I saw a young man walking toward the village. I knew that this was the person that I had just seen leaving on some sort of mission. I followed him into the village. The street was lined with buildings built of mud bricks and wood. We walked toward one at the far end of the street. It appeared to be a shop of some sort. Above the shop were living quarters. He walked up stairs on the side of the building to the roof where he found other steps leading down into the main part of the upper floor.

He walked confidently down a narrow hallway. Wool curtains covered the entryways to various rooms. Pulling back one of the curtains, he entered room. Inside was a young girl, maybe 14 years old, sitting on a bed.

“Greetings, Mary!” the young man said.

The young girl, Mary, jumped. She was terrified to suddenly find herself in the presence of a young man!

“Who are YOU?!” she cried. “How did you get in here? Where is my father?”

“Peace to you. You have found favor with God, the Ruler of the Universe!” he said. “God has chosen you to share in God’s own mission. From above, the Spirit of God will come to you and fill you with God’s presence. Soon, you will bear a son who will bring about the redemption of his people.”

Mary sat dumbstruck. Who was this person? How does he know me? Doesn’t he know that I’m not married yet? I can’t have a child! I will be taken out of the village and stoned as a whore!

These thoughts and many others raced through her young mind.

But then, she stopped. What if the things this person said are true?

“Let it be as you have said,” she replied at last.

With that, the visitor turned and walked out of the room. Mary quickly got up and looked out into the hallway. There was no one there.

——————————————————————————————————————

I want to share a couple thoughts about this story. This is drawn from my journal as I was meditating with Ignatius’ prompts. Although Ignatius wanted people to see the sin and depravity in the world by looking at all of the people and cultures, I couldn’t do that. He saw all of these people as destined for an eternity in hell. I saw them as simply lost, like “sheep without a shepherd.”

In Gabriel’s encounter with Mary, (in my imagination angels don’t have wings and wear diapers. In fact, in this case I could almost envision Gabe wearing a brown UPS uniform), there was a reciprocity that most people miss. I wrote in my journal, “Thus began the history of humanity cooperating together with God.” In every other interaction between humans and the Divine, the human is usually “acted upon.” Abraham was told to go to a land that God would show him. He was also told to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Moses was told to go to Egypt and free his people. He protested, but God basically told him to shut it and Go! Now, I know that there are hairs here that can be split. But, I see Mary as being the first person who really had a choice. She could have said, “Uh, no thanks. I think I’ll pass.” Considering the culture, that would have probably been the expedient thing to do. Like I heard her say in the story, she very likely could have been put to death for a pregnancy out of wedlock. Looking at it like this, Mary literally “gave her life” in order to agree with God.

How can I do any less?

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A Walk with St. Ignatius

I’m currently revisiting “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.”
I first went through these exercises a few year ago with my spiritual director.
Recently, in my morning quiet time I have felt a need to go back and take another look. Why? I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. I’ve found that feelings I get like this during contemplation should not be dismissed. They usually lead to something pretty cool.
For the exercises, Ignatius encouraged meditation that involved the use of “fantasy,” or, the imagination. This is a form of meditation is what the old timey theologians described as “kataphatic.” This type of meditation is usually defined “prayer [that] has content; it uses words, images, symbols, ideas.” It involves the conscious memory to place a person in a relationship with God. In the Exercises this involves imagining various situations, mainly from Gospel stories, where the person meditating “places” him/herself in the story as a participant or observer. One is encouraged to see the environment, taste the food, smell the animals, touch and feel things like the wind. The text becomes a tour guide while the imagination supplies the world being toured.
I realize that our own personalities, memories, and knowledge will color these meditations. That cannot, nor should it, be avoided. After all, the purpose of these exercises is to forge a deeper relationship with God for ourselves. So, we must bring our entire self to them.
Yet, God’s grace guides us. That’s where faith comes in. We can trust that we’re not going too far afield. Plus, these exercises are primarily designed to be used with a trusted Spiritual Director. Someone who will assist in discernment and help keep us on track.
With that in mind, some interesting interpretations and understanding can come out of the experiences. I want to share some of mine.

During what Ignatius called “the First Week,” there are a couple of meditations on the Incarnation of Jesus and His Nativity. Those are just a couple of high-sounding words that mean “when Jesus was born.” I am using the following text for the outline of the meditation. For those of you keeping score, this particular passage is taken from the New International Version, Biblica, Inc., 2011.

We’ll begin our journey with my next post.

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God went the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.”
The the angel left her.

Luke 2:1-7
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

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On My First Official Preaching Gig

Today I had the pleasure of sharing a message with the folks at Nova United Methodist Church in Nova, OH. What a great group of people! Below is a transcript of that sermon. I didn’t present it verbatim. But, this is close enough.

Thank you all for allowing me to share this morning with you. It’s a great pleasure for my wife and me to join with you.

I also want to express a special thanks to Bro. Harry for inviting me. You have a real treasure in him. He is blessed and a blessing.

When Bro. Harry asked me to share, he suggested that it might be good to share a little of my experience with him. Especially, the time we have spent working through what are called the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. For those who are unfamiliar with that, I will explain a little more later. For now, though, I’ll just say that these Exercises were developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the late 16th century as a practical means of discerning, or determining God’s desire and will for a person. In a way, many of us are on that very journey of discovery. Ignatius simply wrote down his method for others to follow.

So, that being said, I would like to share with you a story. I like stories. I like to read them and I like to write them. Stories allow us to share our perception of the world. More importantly, they provide an avenue in which our stories intersect with the stories of others.

I began my story with Jesus about 43 years ago. I was in high school at a time when we in the West were in the throes of tectonic cultural upheaval. There was a war raging in Southeast Asia, morés and traditions were questioned, and many times abandoned. There was growing unrest among young people. And, there was an immense amount of mistrust. In the midst of this, God’s grace touched me. I was soon involved with various religious and church groups. I found stability and acceptance in that time of great change.

Soon, I began to have thoughts of pursuing a career in pastoral ministry. I knew that would involve earning an undergraduate degree followed by seminary. As the time for my departure to college neared, I found a job that paid real money! As an eighteen year old with a car and a few bucks in my pocket, I decided to enter the workplace and lay college aside.

Over the next 30 some odd years I became a father and a soccer coach. I was involved in a couple different music ministries that had the opportunities to play throughout the northern Ohio/Western Pennsylvania region. We also were able to team up with other organizations and play in Australia and Brazil. I worked as the music/worship leader of a small church in Elyria for over 15 years. During that time I realized that much of the music that was being sold as ‘Christian’ was very shallow and theologically questionable. That was the primary reason that I sought a seminary education. I needed to know what God really expected from us mere mortals.

In 2005 we were at our daughter’s graduation from Mt. Vernon Nazarene University. As I watch her cross the platform to accept her degree, I sensed that I should attempt to go back and pursue my own degree. I inquired at Ashland Theological Seminary and attended a fact finding weekend. I asked one of the admissions representatives about my chances. Especially, since I had no undergrad degree. She told me that the chances were slim, but that they were allowed to admit a certain number of ‘special’ students each year. So, I began the admissions process. In June of 2006 I received my letter of acceptance. I was going to college!

During my time at Ashland God began to touch my heart in new ways. My 1st year I took Theology 1. I learned something profound that colored the rest of my time there…and since. I found out that it was ok for Christians to think! Imagine that! Up until that time I had been in a community that pretty much taught us that we needed to accept whatever the leadership said because, well…they were God’s anointed leaders. We were taught not to question them much. And, especially, not to question God.

Later, I was introduced to people who practiced what we today refer to as the ‘spiritual disciplines.’ These involve practices of prayer, meditation, contemplation, fasting, etc.

I began to understand that there were many ways to approach God. There was more than just the Lord’s Prayer and saying grace at the table. I began to follow what is called the Daily Office. This is a series of prayers for each day. Normally, morning & evening prayers and readings taken from a source like the Book of Common Prayer and the Roman Catholic Breviary. Those in my church tradition felt that reciting prepared prayers dampened the spontaneity of the Spirit. These kinds of prayers were always wooden and unfruitful because they could not voice what was happening right here; right now. But, I found freedom and life in this practice. I felt as though I was truly part of a larger body of believers. People around the world were saying these very same prayers. I experienced a sense of unity with followers of Christ world-wide.

After I graduated from Ashland in 2011, I continued many of the practices that I had begun there. Then, on November 3rd of that year, things changed. I woke up on that Monday morning and got ready for work. I didn’t feel well. I bent down to tie my shoes and immediately felt something like bad heartburn. But, it was different in some ways. I told my wife and she, being the dutiful nurse that she is, gave me some aspirin and we drove to the hospital. We arrived at the ER and the folks there hooked me up to an EKG machine. Within minutes I heard a voice over the overhead speaker say, ‘Code Crimson; room 4’. That was my room. They called the code and I was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of people poking me with needles, taking my clothes off, starting IVs and shoving aspirin and Nitroglycerin in my mouth. I was having a heart attack. They wheeled me into the Cardiac Cath lab and began to look at my heart. The main artery of my heart, the so-called Widow maker was 100% blocked. By all accounts, I should have died that morning. But, thanks to the people at the hospital and God’s grace, I’m still here to talk with you.

During my recuperation, I began to get up earlier to spend time just ‘being’ with God. Sometimes I would pray vocally. But, most of the time I was simply quiet in God’s presence. I started each morning by saying, “Here I am, Lord, your servant.” This was my way of stating that I was present and attentive to God. And, I began to pray each day, “Jesus, please come, abide in me. And, let me abide in you.” I figured that if Jesus had said this in John’s Gospel, then it must be a real possibility.

Let me interject a caveat here. I had been a follower of Jesus for about 40 years. I had tried innumerable methods of prayer. I tried to ‘will’ myself to spend even 10 minutes each day in prayer. Nothing ever worked. Having some kind of regular devotional time just eluded me. Now, I found that it was no problem spending time in God’s presence. I firmly believe that this was not the result of anything I had decided to do. There was no ‘willing’ it to be so. This was entirely the result of God’s grace alone.

This brings me up to the time I met Brother Harry. I felt a need to have someone in my life who could help me to develop this new relationship I was experiencing with God. I searched online and came upon a source that talked about Spiritual Direction. I contacted them and they sent me a list of names. Brother Harry was one of those named. I e-mailed him and we set a time to meet. That was 2 years ago this past March. After a year or so of meeting, Harry suggested that we begin Ignatius’ exercises. We began that process in November of last year. This is where I began to experience the reality of today’s Gospel text. Jesus said, “Abide in me, as I also abide in you.” Many translations of this use words like, “remain in me,” or “dwell in me,” or “live in me.” These are all valid translations. But, I like “abide.” That word, to me, is inviting and homey. It has the sense of being comfortable and relaxing with a friend. That’s exactly what I’ve experienced with the Exercises. Whereas, many people look at this text and see “believe in me,” that is, “give mental assent to what I have taught you,” Ignatius invites us to put ourselves ‘into’ the text. We learn to experience the stories. It allows us to build a relationship with Jesus, the apostles, and the others who were part of Jesus’ life. Memories are made as we imagine the scents, sounds and sights of ancient Palestine. Trust is built. Trust in God that what we are doing is guided by the Holy Spirit. I think that it is all part of our living God’s graciousness toward us.

Let’s take a closer look at this passage in John. I’m not going to do a full-on exegesis of this. There is so much that could be noted in here that I couldn’t possibly touch on all of it. But, I do want to share a little of what I think Jesus was trying to communicate. There’s a lot of talk about ‘pruning,’ and cleansing. This sounds painful. I don’t want anyone coming near me with hedge clippers! However, Jesus stated that the point of that was so that much fruit would grow. Then he said, “Hey, trust me. Abide in me.” At first glance this looks like a conditional statement…“If you abide in me, then I’ll abide in you.” Read this way, the emphasis is placed on human action. Jesus will abide only and if we abide in him first. However, this whole passage is focused on Jesus not on human activity. Jesus is the vine. Jesus abides in the Father. Jesus is the source of life for the branches. It’s all Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. If we can take into account all of the linguistic gymnastics that the translators have gone through, I think that we can find a better understanding of this text. Rather than an ‘if/then’ conditional statement, I think Jesus is offering an invitation. George R. Beasley-Murray, who wrote a commentary on this Gospel, suggests that a better rendering would be, “Come. Step into union with me, and be assured that I am remaining in union with you.” We are invited into a relationship with Jesus because he knows that he is the true source of our faith. Parabolic analogies and metaphor can only go so far. But, I don’t think it would be out of bounds to take the ‘vine and branches’ illustration a step further. Yes, the vine has its roots deep in the earth. From there nutrients are carried upward and outward to the branches. The branches, in turn support the leaves and the fruit. In return, the leaves collect the sunlight and transform that energy into food that supports the vine. It appears that Jesus was stating that he desired to have a living relationship with people. That this was not a one-way deal. We can’t just sit passively by and wait for inspiration to rain down on us from heaven. Yes, God’s grace is the engine that drives the relationship. But, our response to that grace is of vital importance. God really, really wants us to know Jesus. And, God wants us to realize that Jesus really, really wants to know us.

This is revealed explicitly in vv. 13-15. Jesus told the disciples that they were no longer considered servants, but that he thought of them as friends. Friends whom he trusted with the words of God. Friends with whom he found comfort and pleasure. Friends who he was willing to lay down his life for.

The Ignatian exercises are all about this friendship. From the beginning we work to understand our place in God’s world and our world. We travel with Jesus from his baptism through his ascension. We talk with him and allow him to speak to us. Like I stated earlier, we need to trust that the Holy Spirit leads us. But, I think that’s part of having faith. I’ve learned that the Spirit works in our hearts and lives even when we don’t see it. There is renewal and transformation happening for those who love God and are called according God’s purposes.

This morning I’d like us all to reflect and see where God might be working in our lives. Perhaps, God is calling us all into a more intimate relationship. A relationship with Jesus, not just as Lord, but also as friend and brother.

Let’s pray…

Heavenly Father, we are so grateful to you for loving us enough to come and join with us in humanity. You are a God who knows us and understands us. And, You are a God who desires us to know you. Please, allow your Holy Spirit to fill and guide us as we seek to build a meaningful relationship with you. Amen.

More on My Journey with Ignatius

ignacio1I had promised some months ago to share some of my experiences with the Ignatian Exercises. However, the Exercises took away most of my writing time. Now, with my new work hours, I can take a moment to share a bit.

Over the past 6 months I have experienced prayer and contemplation in new and refreshing ways. Perhaps the most dynamic way has been to visualize and ‘enter in to’ the various stories that Ignatius used for prompts. He chose stories from the Gospels and encouraged others to imagine themselves in the stories. I was encouraged to ‘walk’ with and ‘talk’ with Jesus, the disciples, Mary and others. I found this to be an incredibly potent tool in learning to know Jesus as friend and brother. And, for the most part, the images were vivid, full of light and full of hope and joy.

The past few weeks, though, have been spent contemplating the Passion story. Almost immediately I sensed a change. Where there had been light, there was now darkness. Earlier I had clear images and experiences. Now, the images were obscured, as if a dark cloud was between me and the other participants. Before I had sensed joy. This turned to hopelessness and fear.

I shared these things with my Spiritual Director. I was concerned that I was missing something. Or, that my own shortcomings were a wall separating me from fully experiencing the stories.

He said that this was not unusual since the stories, themselves, were of a different nature. In them, Jesus was separated from others. He was pulled away and arrested. He stood alone before the Council and Pilate. Beaten and dragged away to be crucified, he was alone. On the tree of crucifixion, he was abandoned.

Then he was dead.

Joseph and Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial. Mary and some other women were present. I looked on and felt the despair. They had all hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God who was going to restore Israel and reign over God’s kingdom. Now, all they had was a lifeless corpse. Hopelessness; fear; shadow; darkness; cloud; doubt.

I felt doubts creep in. Didn’t Jesus say that his followers would do greater things than he? He healed the sick and raised the dead! Where is that happening? Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was at hand? Where is it? Why can’t I experience God’s presence throughout each day? GOD! WHERE ARE YOU?

I’ve read where pastors have asked these same questions. And, not having adequate answers, have left the faith entirely. After all, if we can’t hear it, see it, touch it, taste it or smell it…it must not exist.

However, that was not my experience. I know that God is not afraid of, nor hurt by, our doubts. In fact, I think that God encourages them. It’s easy to say, “I believe.” In fact, many in the Church look at doubts as obstacles to belief. They say that they will lead people astray or hinder their experience of God. I have found, though, that it’s much better to embrace them. It’s harder yet I think better, to doubt and still believe.

I suddenly realized that I had experienced these same feelings. Rather than the images and experiences of being in the story, I had been experiencing the actual emotions of those who lived through it. In the desolation of my prayers and in the depression of my days and in my doubts, God had allowed the reality of these stories to become my reality. I was not an observer, or even a participant. I had become one with the story.

I don’t know where the next stage of the exercises will take me. I am sure, however, that Jesus will continue to meet me and continue to say, “Come…follow me.”

What have been your experiences in your life’s journey? Have you encountered yourself revealed in someone else’s story? How are you writing your own story?