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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Wednesday Morning Musing

I just finished reading “The Ocean at the End of  the Lane” by Neil Gaiman.

Near the end he wrote the following:

”I said, “You don’t have to take me home. I could stay with you. I could wait until Lettie comes back from the ocean. I could work on your farm, and carry stuff, and learn to drive a tractor.”

She said, “No,” but she said it kindly. “You get on with your own life, Lettie gave it to you. You just have to grow up and try and be worth it.”

A flash of resentment. It’s hard enough being alive, trying to survive in the world and find your place in it, to do the things you need to do to get by, with out wondering if the thing you just did, whatever it was, was worth someone having..if not died, then having given up her life. It wasn’t fair.”

When I read those words I felt the bitter sting of my own resentment. Not toward any other person. But, resentment toward myself. For, I too, know of someone who performed a similar sacrifice on my behalf. A sacrifice that I am ashamed to say that I have not ‘grown up and been worth it.’

I’ve allowed myself to be turned from the path I was given to trod.

“Be sensible.”
“Don’t be selfish.”
“Remember, you now have a family to support.”
“Go ahead and do that. But, remember, it’s ONLY a hobby. It can never be a real vocation.”
“Sit still and do this task.”
“You wrote this? Is there something wrong with you?”
“Get a hair cut!”
“Follow these rules and you’ll find true peace and happiness.”

“Jesus didn’t die so that you could do whatever you want!”

Didn’t he? What then was the purpose? So that I could live forever in some so-called paradise where I would still need to follow those rules? A place somewhere ‘out there’ where I would still need to conform to someone else’s idea of who I am?

No.

I don’t believe he did.

Someone wrote that Jesus once said, “ I came that life they may have, and abundantly they may have (it).” (Sometimes when translated word for word, Greek sounds kinda like Yoda talking!) If that’s true, what then constitutes that ‘abundant’ life?

 

Some say that giving in to the expectations that others have placed on us is that way. It’s a challenge that all caring humans must accept and engage in. Follow the rules; meet their expectations and the reward will be worth it.

Will it?

Others may respond with, “We must follow those rules so that an ordered society can flourish. It’s not about YOU! It’s about the greater good!”

Uh huh, yeah, I get it. My dreams, that part of me that should grow up to show that the sacrifice was worth it, should be suborned for the sake of others. So that by my sacrifice others will have this same obligation placed on their shoulders. Then they can do the same and the obligation for the greater good can spread exponentially throughout the world. Is THAT what you mean?

IS THAT THE ABUNDANT LIFE?

If it is, I am truly not interested.

Yes, I get it that we have responsibilities. We need to eat and pay the bills. We need to nurture and protect those whose lives are intertwined with our own. I’m not debating that at all. And, I do think that there is meaning and fulfillment in meeting those responsibilities.

But, what about nurturing and protecting that person who lives within me? That person for whom the sacrifice was made? Does that person get relegated to row ZZ in the upper deck? That’s what we’re taught. Isn’t it?

And, all the while I shrink. My spirit atrophies. I become a shriveled shell shackled and shamed into being someone I was never meant to be.

All of this tells me that, no, I haven’t been able to “be worth it.” Everything has been done with an eye to making someone else happy. That has led to some pretty harsh lapses. It seems that when we don’t care for ourselves, something inside eventually rebels and life can go to hell in a particle accelerator at nearly the speed of light. Then that shell becomes more than shriveled and shackled. It becomes shattered.

So, what now?
Where does someone turn for redemption?
For fulfillment?
For a glimpse of the ‘abundant life?’

I know that it may sound trite. But, I think that the only place to turn is to that person who offered that original sacrifice. I think that to touch the heart and mind of that person is key to unlocking the prison in which the true “me” lives. Or, the true “you.”

For me, it’s past time to break out and move forward. Sunday a Bishop of our Anglican church spoke. He shared several stories about people who asked God what they should do with their lives. They listened. They moved forward. They didn’t become rich and famous. Some would say they weren’t even all that successful. But, they lived their calling. They grew up and showed that the sacrifice made for them was truly worth it.

I hope that I can follow them. I hope when it’s all said and done the One Who sacrificed can look at me and say, “Yeah, it was worth it.”

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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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Watch Out for Truffle-Bots!

Let me tell you about Truffle-bots.

They are small and brown. They kind of look like small chunks of dirt. You can tell them from real dirt and truffles by the tiny blue light that shines on their underside. They have no scent, except maybe a slight ozone-ish, electronic smell.

They are usually found in wooded areas.

They are covered by thousands of tiny flagella that work in a way that allows the Truffle-bot to bury itself just below the surface of the ground. There, they remain until their batteries need a charge. Then the flagella switch on to bring them back into the sunlight where miniature solar panels produce energy that satiates the hungry power cell.

If someone should happen to walk near a buried Truffle-bot, it will eject a strong filament that wraps around the unsuspecting victim’s ankles. This causes the victim to fall face-down onto the leaf-strewn carpet of the forest.

(If you had really good hearing, you would be able to perceive a small, electronic laugh from just below the surface.)

Sometimes, the woods are cleared and something new, something not natural, something made with human hands is built. Like soccer pitches.

But, just under the surface of the ground, the Truffle-bots remain hidden.

I know this for a fact.

I’ve watched soccer matches where a player will be going full-sprint, and suddenly, flat on his face on the turf.

We all would laugh and yell, “Sniper”!

But, if you listen very carefully…

Wednesday Musings

This morning during my quiet time with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises I was reflecting on Jesus before Pilate. Jesus had just been brought back after having been whipped and mocked by Roman soldiers.

Pilate seemed to have a desire to release Jesus. He exclaimed, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him” (Jn 19:4).

The Leaders would have nothing of that.

“Crucify him, crucify him!” they yelled.

“Shall I crucify your King?” Pilate asked.

As I considered this, an image formed in my mind.

I saw Pilate with Jesus, beaten almost beyond recognition, standing next to him. There was a bust of trump behind him. It had a laurel wreathe on its head.

I saw the crowd, Al Mohler, Franklin Graham, Mike Pence, Tony Perkins, Robert Jeffress, and others standing there yelling, “We have no king but Caesar.”


It’s sad that American Evangelicalism can elicit such an image. Sad, but true.

Flight to Egypt

This is the fourth part of my meditation on the Nativity. It will also be the last on this topic. In the next installment we’ll take a quick detour through Jesus’ childhood before spending substantial time on his public ministry.

King Herod was livid. He had met a few days earlier with a group of astrologers from the East, so-called Magi. They reported seeing a star that, according to their charts, revealed the birth of a new King in Israel. Arriving in Jerusalem, they had been brought to Herod, the current King of Israel. He welcomed them and inquired about their journey.

“In the western sky, the heavens revealed a new thing!” one of them exclaimed. “A King has been born! A King who will rule over Israel!”

Another said, “We followed the star so that we may worship the child!”

While Herod was gracious to these strangers, he was not happy about their message. However, he wanted to keep them happy in order to get as much information from them as possible.

The travelers were treated to a special feast before being sent on their way to continue following the star.

“When you find this child, return to me with a full report. I, too, wish to see this new King and worship him,” Herod charged them.

Days later, reports came to Herod that the Magi had left Israel secretly. No one crossed Herod! He had killed one wife and several of his own children! The great Caesar Augustus had once remarked that it would be better to be one of Herod’s pigs than one of his sons. Who did these damned foreigners think that they were? All of Jerusalem was on edge because of the King’s rage. Herod considered himself God’s anointed King. After all, he had built up the Temple and made it the envy of the whole world. His building projects were unrivaled in the Roman empire. How could God allow something like this? In Herod’s world, there was only ONE King!

Someone would pay for this. He would send a clear message to ANY would-be usurpers. A message that would not be quickly forgotten.

Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, Joseph had a dream. In the dream an angel warned him that Herod was sending soldiers to kill Joseph’s new son.

“Flee! Go where Herod cannot find you! Go west to Egypt!”

Joseph woke soaked with sweat and his heart racing.

“Mary! Wake up! The Lord sent a warning! We must leave here! NOW!!!”

The young family packed quickly and found a group of merchants going to Egypt. When they finally arrived, they found a community of Jews where they were welcomed. Joseph was especially welcomed. A good carpenter was always needed. Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus were comfortable and safe there. But, it was not ‘home.’

As they were on their way to Egypt, Herod’s forces arrived in Bethlehem. They went from door-to-door and put all boys who were two years old and younger to the sword. Herod made sure that he would have no rivals.

A few years later Joseph was again visited in a dream. The messenger told him that it was safe to return to Israel. Those who had plotted to kill the young Jesus were now dead.

Joseph packed up his family and traveled back to Israel. But, because of fears about Herod’s successor, Joseph took the family to Nazareth rather than back to Bethlehem.


As I reflected on this story I felt the fear and anxiety that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus experienced. We in this culture can’t truly understand what it’s like to pack up all of our belongings and run for our lives. They went from a comfortable home with family and friends to refugee status over night. I sensed, though, that both Mary and Jesus had a deep trust in Joseph’s leadership.

So many historiographers portray Jesus as somewhat immune to ordinary emotions such as fear and anxiety. He is shown as a person who is in  total control, rather than a normal child. For these writers Jesus would certainly not trust in a mere human! He had a hotline to God! Yet, the stories in the synoptic Gospels show a human side to Jesus. I can follow someone who understands life as a vulnerable person. He was a child who depended on his parents for his life and well-being. He was a real person whom I can relate to.

However, not everything about this meditation was easy. I had a very difficult time with this story. God had sent a messenger to Joseph to warn him of Herod’s plan. There is nothing here that would indicate that Joseph knew the lengths to which Herod would go. I don’t think that he would have run away without warning others if he knew that Herod was going to kill all of the young boys. And, if Joseph would have warned others, why didn’t God? They could have taken their children away until Herod’s anger cooled. But, that didn’t happen. How many children lost their lives in this massacre because God neglected to warn them. Did God not care? These are the kinds of hard questions that people ask. And, for many, or most, the answers are wholly inadequate. Who could swear allegiance to and follow a God who would allow such an atrocity?

I asked the Father, why? Why were the parents not warned? I sat quietly waiting for some kind of response. Eventually, I got a ‘reply.’ I did not hear any audible voice. I can’t say with certainty that ‘God said…’ This was all taking place in my mind. But, according to Albus Dumbledore, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

What I heard was, “Do you really believe that I would do that?

Whoa! What? You’re saying that the story is not true? If not, why did the writer include it? Did he add this simply in order to use the Jewish Scriptures to add some kind of credibility to the life of Jesus? He wrote about Rachel’s wailing and how God called his son out of Egypt. Both plot points that this story makes possible.

In the light of what I’ve learned about God over the last several years and the response noted earlier, I must view this passage as a literary device. It appears that the writer, 1) Did want to tie the passages in the Jewish Scriptures to show that Jesus was, indeed, the Chosen One of Israel, and 2) To show the utter depravity of Herod. And, by extension, the entire Herodian culture.

We can dismiss the historicity of this passage. But, we cannot cut it out of the text. Regardless of what we may think, this story is part of the inspired canon. What we can do, however, is put it in its place under the feet of God.

I’m fairly sure that Ignatius wouldn’t approve of where I’ve gone with this. But, it is impossible for me to attribute the massacre of innocent children to the loving and merciful Father that I know. Nor, can I ascribe some abstract notion of sovereignty and authority to this.

The God that I worship would NOT be complicit in such an act…PERIOD!

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More Sunday Musings

This morning I was listening to Fr. Gene Sherman continue his messages on the Apostles’ Creed. The purpose of this series is to give people a basic foundation for belief held my followers of Jesus. While I don’t agree with some of what Gene shares, (there is no compulsion to do so), I do find it refreshing listening to someone who actually learned how to do exegesis. Unlike so many others that I’ve heard.

Today Gene spoke on the portion of the creed that states, “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins.” That idea is absolutely foundational to Christian belief. God is the one who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

One example he used was the story of the Father and Two Sons in the Gospel according to Luke, Chpt. 15. Gene gave the usual take on how gracious the father was to both sons. After being so unjustly used by the youngest, the father received him home again with open arms.

What struck me today, though, was something I had read dozens of times, but failed to really recognize. That’s not unusual with a pericope like this that is so packed with good stuff.

The story goes that a young man left his father and brother and took his inheritance. He then lost it all living an extravagant lifestyle. Ultimately, he had to hire himself out to someone who put him to work feeding pigs. To a Jewish ear, no one could fall further than that. Finally, the young man “came to his senses” and thought that while he sat there with nothing to eat, his father’s servants had plenty to fill their bellies.

What caught my ear was that when he realized what he had done, the first thing he thought of was his stomach. Hunger had driven him to a place where he could decide to return to his father’s home. It overcame his pride and shame.

So, he left for his fathers home, all the while rehearsing the lines he would use to ingratiate himself with his father.

(Now, before anyone gets their boxers in a bunch about how I worded that last sentence, let me be clear about something. I truly believe that the young man in the story was repentant. Somewhere along the line he realized that he had treated his father shamefully. He had, in fact, wished him to be dead by asking for his inheritance. I’m not diminishing that at all. But, we all have many motives for the things that we say and do.)

When he finally returned home, his father ignored all social protocol and ran to meet his son. He welcomed him home with new clothes and reinstated him to the family with his own signet ring. What happened next is what struck me.

He held a banquet and slaughtered the ‘fattened calf.’

The young man came to his senses spurred on by his hunger. Here, his father lavishly welcomed him with a great feast.

Many who exegete this emphasize the father’s role with both sons. With the youngest is the way in which the father went ‘over the top’ in his welcome. Jesus used this story to show the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, (those who thought that they were the true keepers of the faith; the ‘gatekeepers’ to bring it into contemporary parlance), that they, in fact, did NOT know the Father. Their preconceptions of a righteous and just God mandated that their ‘god’ be bitter and retributive to those who acted, well, like the young son in the story. Yet, Jesus revealed a Father who was willing to stoop to unbelievable low levels in order to welcome the young man and lavish good things on him.

That is how God is. When we are hungry and starving, God is there to prepare a great feast for us when we return. God gives from God’s own abundance to the weary and wayward. BTW, God also gives “everything he has” to the older son who remained with him faithfully. But, for those of us who come to our senses, God has a special welcome for us.

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Sunday Musings

I’ve been attending a local Anglican Church for the past couple of months. I really appreciate the liturgy and weekly communion. But, this particular church doesn’t seem like it would be a good match for me. A bit of history…

I first went to this church while in Seminary. I had an assignment that required that I interview local pastors about how they handle pastoral care. I met with the Rector of the church and we had a good chat. I soon attended a few times to check them out.

They are a conservative Evangelical group. At the time I met them they were in the middle of a lawsuit over their continued use of the building they were in. You see, they had split from the main Anglican Church in the U.S. mostly over the ordination of a gay bishop. Like I said, they are conservative evangelicals. They lost the suit and have been somewhat nomadic for the intervening years. They finally landed in a building that’s about a 2 minute walk from my house. So, it is convenient for me. Especially, since any other church I’ve attended has been at least a 30 minute drive.

Anyway, like I said this church is an odd one for me. I’m a progressive who is staunchly pro-LGBT. I don’t hold to an inerrant view of Scripture. That includes things like the 7 day creation and the flood of Noah. The Rector believes all of this. (At least as far as I can glean from what he has said from the pulpit.)

So, the question that begs asking is “Why”?

To be quite honest, I don’t know for sure. I have spent the last couple of years searching for a community of Christ followers that I could be a part of. And, for someone like me, the pickin’s are slim. The choices are usually between liberal main line denominations and evangelical mega-church wannabes. Neither of those fit. My wife even told my that the only church I would be happy in would be my own. (That thought has crossed my mind.)

I continued to pray and reflect and meditate searching for something, anything, that might help.

This small Anglican church kept coming up. So, I started to attend some evening prayer meetings and Sunday services. I found myself comfortable with the traditional style of worship. I even find myself smiling during parts of the liturgy. But, the overtly conservative vibe struck dissonant chords in my mind. The sermons, which I find to be a distraction, are definitely drawn from a neo-Calvinist point of view. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NO flavor of Calvinist. Yet, I have kept going.

Today, God shined a bit of light on things for me. (Thanx be to God!)

The Rector is preaching a series on what Christians believe. He is using the Apostles’ Creed as the outline for the series. Today he used the text from Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus. The second chapter of the letter has a portion that deals with the way that Jews and Gentiles should relate. For those who aren’t familiar with this, these two groups did not play together well. The Jews considered themselves the only true people of the only true God. Gentiles were everyone else. In the nascent Church, these two groups found themselves thrown together under one roof. Both sides claiming worship the same God, but in vastly different ways. The example given today showed a potluck in which the Jewish group brought only Kosher foods. No pork, no shellfish, no meat from pagan sacrifices. The Gentiles showed up with their BBQ pork and lobster. You get the picture. Not on the same page at all. So, here comes Paul. The Jewish theologian and the Apostle to the Gentiles. Weird.

He wrote:

“For he himself, (Jesus), is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”  (Eph. 2:14-16, NIV, 2011.)

The point the priest today wanted to make was that the walls that separate people from God and one another have been broken down. He went to great lengths to show that we are all in this thing called ‘life’ together. And, that none of us are perfect. We all need God, for sure. But, we also need each other.

As I left today, I stopped to great him at the door. I said, “And, the walls that separate conservative evangelicals from progressives have also been broke down by Jesus.”

That’s how I can continue to worship with this group of sinners saved by grace. Cuz, I’m one of them.

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How Can a Follower of Jesus Reconcile Violence in the Scripture?

*Note: This by no means a comprehensive treatment of the question of violence in the Scripture. These mental ramblings are simply meant to inspire thoughtful reflection.

I read and listen to a lot of different people with widely varying worldviews. There are evangelicals and progressive Christians. Over there are the atheists and the Nones. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists. I entertain the thoughts and ideas of many people. Every once in a while, even a fundamentalist Christian sneaks in.

The reasons that I do this are many and varied. I’m not afraid of ideas and questions. We are all passengers on this Pale, Blue Dot hurtling through space. We all have responsibilities to each other and to the planet itself. We neglect these responsibilities at our own peril.

I’ve interacted with folks outside of my own faith tradition, several who question the basic morality of Christians and even the Christian God.

They react to Christians who say “God is love,” or “You can’t be a moral person without God as your moral compass.” They site the number of people who say that they follow Christ, yet live like someone has placed a magnet too close to their ‘moral compass.’ It doesn’t seem to lead them toward true North, but toward some barren desert on the outskirts of BFE, (you can Google that yourself).

It isn’t a far stretch for them to observe that if someone claims to live according to the words of their god, then that god MUST be of similar moral and ethical fiber as they are themselves.

So, the questions arise, “What about how your God commanded His people to totally destroy their enemies”? “Their enemies’ women and children?” “What kind of god would command such a thing?”

And, they are justified to ask such hard questions. The sacred texts of all of the Abrahamic faiths have passages that talk about the so-called righteous destruction of god’s enemies. And, in some cases, people who are not enemies, but happen to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Believers then feel compelled to defend God. (Like that’s even possible.) They respond with things like, “Well, God is God and can do whatever God wants to do.” Or, “God must have given those people a chance to repent, but they chose not to.” Still others simply say, “I don’t know, but if God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Worse yet, many conservative believers use these texts to excuse violence against ‘others.’

Progressives don’t fare much better. They rationalize the text by alluding to the fact that these are ancient texts written by and for ancient people. So, it looks like God simply met them where they were culturally and ‘allowed’ certain behaviors that we enlightened folks in the 21st century find abhorrent. Or, they just ignore these texts. Of course, these are non-answers that simply seek to avoid the hard questions.

In fact, any and all responses like these do nothing more than perpetuate the idea that God is some sort of sadistic monster.

 

Then there’s the curve ball…Jesus.

 

The God that I see revealed through Jesus as recorded in the Gospels looks nothing like the God displayed in the Hebrew Bible.

What should one do with this apparent contradiction?

One person in the 2nd century C.E. came up with a unique way to look at this conundrum. His name was Marcion. Marcion came up with the idea that the God of the Hebrew Bible was not the same God as the Father of Jesus Christ. According to theologian Alister McGrath, Marcion believed that “The Old Testament relates to a different God from the New; the Old Testament God, who merely created the world, was obsessed with the idea of law. The New Testament God, however, redeemed the world and was concerned with love.”[1] Historian Justo L. Gonzalez adds, according to Marcion “Jehovah is an arbitrary god, who chooses a particular people above all the rest. And he is also vindictive, constantly keeping an account on those that disobey him, and punishing them. In short, Jehovah is a god of justice–and an arbitrary justice at that.”[2] Marcion went so far as to create his own canon that eliminated texts that did not conform to his special interpretation.

I suppose that’s one way to deal with the hard sayings of the Bible. Just cut them out and ignore them.

The thing is, we really don’t have that option. We’re stuck with what we’ve got.

So, how do we reconcile God with divine and human violence?

Simply put, we don’t; we can’t.

To explain away texts that the Church considers inspired in some simple, easy-to-wrap-my-brain-around-the-unwrappable isn’t something that we are entitled to do.

But, there may be another way to read these texts without ignoring or reading past them.

Recently, while spending time in contemplation, a thought occurred to me. Human history has been fraught with acts of violence and genocide. We don’t need to look any further than our own history in the U.S. Our very existence as a nation came about at the hands of European domination that was given strength by the Bishop of Rome, himself. In the late 15th century, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal Bull entitled, “Inter Caetera.” Basically, the Pope stated that any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered” and dominated by Christians. That’s how Columbus could get lost, yet “discover” land that was already occupied.

But, all of this is another post.

Some countries have recognized the abuses that have been heaped upon others. Notably, South Africa and Canada. Both of these countries have taken steps to reconcile their violent and oppressive pasts.

South Africa had a history of treating the indigenous Blacks living there with forced domination and violence. This system of “apartheid” was designed to keep the white minority in power over Blacks and other people of color at any cost. And, the costs were high. Many died and the freedom of all was taken away.

Finally, after much domestic and international pressure, South Africa ended apartheid in 1994. They set up a tribunal type commission whose mandate was to work toward reconciliation of ALL of South Africa’s citizens. The commission allowed people to have grievances and abuses recorded and, in some cases allowed for amnesty for those who came forward to report their own culpability. It was NOT a way for the oppressed minority to ‘get even.’ It was a way to get the wounds out in the open where they could be treated and healed.

The results have been breath-taking. South Africa has created a functioning democracy that they can be proud of.

Canada also began a process to help heal its own genocidal past. As European colonists invaded North America they ushered in an age of systematic elimination of the Indigenous People who had inhabited this continent for many thousands of years. The brutality and injustice of the colonists knew no bounds. From dislocation, to starvation, to the infamous Boarding Schools, Aboriginal people suffered.

“Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts,” one person involved with the process wrote. It is, in a nutshell, the overarching framework for the Canadian effort. There are many who don’t feel that this goes far enough,. Canada still asks the Aboriginal people to accept the reconciliation effort on the terms of the colonists. This is a valid complaint. But, it is a start. The Canadian government is beginning to understand their own culpability in the genocide and are becoming more inclined to work toward a better relationship with the First Nations.

A common thread in these actions is acknowledging and repenting from earlier behavior that caused hurt to others.

What if we read the violence written in the Scriptures in a similar way?

We could truthfully acknowledge the violence. Yes. Whether the violence actually happened or not, the ancient writers recorded them. And, the people who gathered the early Church Councils canonized them. These facts we must accept because, Duh!, they’re written down.

However, we don’t need to accept the interpretations of these texts that have been passed down to us. God gave us rational minds with which to think and contemplate these words. We are, I believe, commissioned to read the Inspired texts and allow them to live and breathe in our contemporary world. Therefore, we can forcefully denounce the violence for what it was: an abhorrent violation of humanity. There really is no way around it. The actions depicted in Scripture are hateful and bigoted. There is NO redeeming value to them whatsoever.

Through confession and repentance we could claim LIFE for ourselves, our friends and enemies, and the whole of the Cosmos.

I believe that the God revealed in the Gospels would be pleased with this. In fact, maybe God has been patiently waiting for humanity to grasp this. Perhaps we can enter into a new aeon of peace and prosperity with all of our co-inhabitants on this Third Stone From the Sun.

[1] McGrath, Alister E., “Christian Theology: An Introduction”, 4th Ed., Blackwell Pub., 2007, p. 126.

[2] Gonzalez, Justo L., “The Story of Christianity:Vol. 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, HarperSanFrancisco, 1984, p.61.

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Blessings!