Tag Archives: the bible

Community Truth

24 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The word

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again,”Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. –John 20

Every Easter season we hear the same story. The tomb is empty. The impossible happened. Life wins. Every Easter season we are confronted by the absurdly hopeful idea that Jesus rose from the dead. Every year, we have to decide all over again if we believe. Unlike Thomas, we don’t get to stick our fingers in the wounds of Jesus for proof. We have not seen, but are asked to believe. At times, it can seem daunting, to decide what, in fact, I actually believe.

My spouse, who can read this text in it’s original language, pointed out something in this passage that offered me a sense of comfort this Easter season. Look at the differences between all the “we’s” and “I’s” and “you’s”. Look at the difference between what the disciples say and what Jesus says to the disciples, and what Thomas says. Jesus says “Peace be with you (plural). As the Father has sent me, so I send you (plural).” And the disciples say to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas, on the other hand, is all “I’s” and “me” and “my”: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Now, that may seem like a small detail. Thomas is one person speaking, while the disciples are speaking as a group; of course Thomas would use singular pronouns. But there’s something bigger going on here. The truth of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t rely on a singular person’s experience. It wasn’t just Mary Magdalene who saw the empty tomb; it was Mary and Simon, Peter, and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and then the others. And Jesus didn’t appear to just her or him. Jesus appeared to them.

The truth of Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t rely on a singular person’s experience. In fact, the truth rarely does. Truth is communal. Truth is held by communities. What is overwhelming to me at times is having to speak from the I singular. It is wonderful to concentrate on speaking from the I plural. I enjoy thinking, talking, studying and discussing as a community, knowing the community leans on years and decades and centuries of thought. I enjoy having my thoughts changed or grown or strengthened by the stories and experiences of my neighbors and my community and people across the world who think differently than I do. That support, that accountability, that communal discernment offers me comfort on the way. So let us, this Easter season, continue to work toward articulating and living out what we together believe.

Gospel Reflection for April 26, 2015, 4th Sunday of Easter

21 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 4.8-12; 1 John 3.1-2; John 10.11-18

“I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and mine know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep.”

(John 10.14-15)

As the good shepherd, Jesus reveals his Father’s continuing love for Israel and extends this love to all. God loves Jesus for freely laying down his life for the sheep because his action reveals the Father’s love for all.

Whom do you shepherd? For whom are you laying down your life?

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Gospel Reflection for April 19, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Easter

14 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 3.13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2.1-5; Luke 24.35-48

Jesus stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” His disciples were startled and terrified…He said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet, that it is I myself.”

(Luke 24.36-39)

In Sunday’s resurrection scene from Luke, some believe, some question, some suspend judgement. For his disciples Jesus’ resurrection recalibrates who God is and what God does in our world.

Our time also puts God in new contexts and stirs mixed emotions. Some cling to past certainties. Many disaffiliate from institutional religions. Church scandals have sent many Catholics into the ranks of the none-affiliated. Others retreat from doctrines built on worldviews people today no longer hold.

Some of us stay and seek fresh insights in dialogue with science, technology, and other religions. We recognize that evolution doesn’t conflict with faith but our image of God as fixed and static seems inadequate in an evolving world. God is more than we previously imagined. God’s creative love unfolds dynamically from inanimate to living and conscious creatures. It’s a wow and a wonder. God addresses us as much from the future as the past.

My own faith in resurrection rests not only on the gospel testimony of the first witnesses but my experience of being with my mother in her last days. Her spirit became increasingly transparent in her body. This and creation itself keeps me open to the impossible coming to be.

What is the mix of your feelings this Easter season — amazement, joy, disbelief?

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Gospel Reflection for April 12, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Easter

6 Apr

Sunday Readings: Acts 4.32-35; 1 John 5.1-6; John 19-31

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

(John 20.21-23)

The risen Jesus brings his disciples two gifts — peace and new life. Jesus breathes the new life of the Spirit upon his disciples just as in the beginning God breathed the spirit of life into the first earthling in Genesis 2.7. The new life Jesus’ Spirit inspires is forgiveness. The gifts become a commission. Jesus sends the community out to make the lives of others whole as he has made their lives new and whole.

When have you found new life in forgiving or being forgiven?

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Are We Rome?

3 Apr
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

 

Happy Holy Week to you, one and all.

On Palm Sunday, we imagined Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We wondered what this procession of palms may have looked like. Was it to fulfill a prophecy? How many people caught the reference to Zachariah in the moment? Was it, as Crossan and Borg argue in The Last Week, a procession to challenge the Imperial Procession of Pilate and counter the dominating system? Pilate’s procession symbolized Roman military, theology and political might. Was Jesus reminding us that God’s kingdom counters that of worldly domination?

Did Jesus know what he would find when he got to the temple?

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers. –Matthew 21:12-23

We imagine Jesus turning over tables and try to reconcile his anger with our ideas of his perfection. What, today, is worth our righteous anger? Are we complicit in the dominating system of our day that Jesus was countering by riding in from the East on a donkey?

On Palm Sunday, the youth in our congregation make and sell Cinnamon Rolls in celebration of Holy Week and to raise money for our summer work trips. We pictured Jesus, having to pass our table where money was being exchanged on his way to the sanctuary for worship. Would he turn over our table and call our gallery a den of robbers?

“I’d like to think Jesus would buy a cinnamon roll from us,” a ninth grader said.

Yet the image lingers. Would Jesus turn over my table in anger? This Holy Week, I’m wondering what procession I am truly taking part in. If Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem to die was really about, in part, countering the violence, power and glory of the dominating empire that ruled the world at that time, how can I follow him more closely today?

Gospel Reflection for April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday

31 Mar

Sunday Readings: Acts 10.34,37-43; Colossians 3.1-4 (Easter Vigil: Mark 16.1-7);  John 20.1-9 (10-18)

“I have seen the Lord,” Mary Magdalene announces to the community of Jesus’ disciples when she returns from encountering her Teacher on Easter morning (John 20.18). Jesus sends her as the apostle to the apostles to tell them, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” We share Jesus’ relationship with God. That’s a wow.

Personally I am a late comer to relationship with Jesus. It is creation that awakened me to divine presence in the world—in the flowering ditches of my childhood and the meadows of mountain hikes.  It is the wonder of seeds sprouting, rooting, growing, multiplying that grounds my faith. In my deepest adult experience of God it is the Spirit I found underlying my existence, affirming I was okay.

Jesus lives his life so fast. He encounters opposition as soon as he opens his mouth in Galilee. Although he prays that God take the cup of suffering from him, he faces it. In the three short last days he makes bread and wine signs of his wholehearted self-giving; he undergoes the pain and humiliation of his passion, and dies on the cross.

However, now that I am older and go to funerals for family and more frequently, I see the Lord in lives lived long and slowly, lives poured out over years of days for spouses and children, for the good of neighbor and the common civic good.

I watched sisters in their 90s walk slowly into the Vespers that welcomed the Vatican visitors to our congregation. These women have poured out their lives endlessly for the work of the gospel and aren’t done yet. They were among the women the Vatican was investigating and in whom I see the Lord.

In whom have you seen the Lord?

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Gospel Reflection for March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday

24 Mar

Sunday Readings: Mark 11.1-10; Isaiah 50.4-7; Philippians 2.6-11; Mark 14.1-15.47

“When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve…. While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is pour out for many.  I will never drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God'”.

(Mark 14.17, 22-25)

 Jesus refers to sharing the cup as a covenant, a new agreement about our relationship with God.  Ancient Israel ratified its covenant in blood, signifying that the people pledged with their lives to keep the terms of the covenant, the ten commandments.  The community that tells Jesus’ story understands his gestures at the last supper as a new covenant that expresses his willingness to love them unto death.

What do you promise with your life?

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Gospel Reflection for March 22, 2015, 5th Sunday of Lent

16 Mar

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 31.31-34; Hebrews 5.7-9; John 12.22-33

“The hour has come in which the Son of Man will be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it will be bear much fruit.”

(John 12.23-24)

In John’s gospel the hour of Jesus’ death is the moment when God will glorify Jesus’ name. A dynamic process begins, a passing over, a planting that will bear fruit a hundred fold. In being lifted up — first on the cross and ultimately from the tomb — Jesus will draw all people to himself.

At the heart of Christian faith is Jesus’ life-giving resurrection from his self-giving death. In death Jesus entrusts his life to God, the same life-giving Creator that hides the promise of new life in seeds. Jesus’ imminent death will no more be an end than Lazarus’s death was or than the planting of a seed is.

What is the hour in which you are living right now?

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Gospel Reflection for March 15, 2015, 4th Sunday of Lent

10 Mar

Sunday Readings: 2 Chronicles 36.14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2.4-10; John 3.14-21

“For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have life forever.”

(John 3.16)

Jesus’ mission is not to condemn the world but to save it. He calls us who believe in him to do likewise. Like Nicodemus, we find this hard to understand. We are accustomed to the harsh realities of our world, such as terrorism, collateral damage, market forces, corporate downsizing, beheadings. We take the daily condemnation and crucifixion of millions of our fellow human beings for granted. But, as Nicodemus eventually does, we, too, by the grace of God, can leave our destructive deeds behind and come to the foot of the cross to stand in the light of the one like us who lifted us up. We can begin now to see God’s kingdom in our midst and live the new life Jesus brings.

Who can I or we take down from their crosses? Whose sorrow and pain can we help nurse?

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Forgiveness

5 Mar
Photo via Flickr user Quantumlars

Photo via Flickr user Quantumlars

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. –Matthew 18: 23-35

Ok, nothing like a light, cheery story to start your day. The only comfort we can find in this passage, amidst the throwing people into prison and the handing people over to be tortured is that fact that it’s a parable. The allegory is clear. We’re the slaves, and it’s not going to go over well with God if we don’t forgive the people in our lives. But maybe Jesus doesn’t expect us to take the parable literally? We hope?

We can get lost in the weeds, digging into the details here: A talent is a whole heck of a lot more than a denarius, so the Lord is forgiving a much larger debt than the slave refuses to forgive his peer. We could muse about how hard it is to ask for patience from other people, how humiliating it is to admit that we need more time, more help, more money. But we can only skirt around the last two verses for so long. This forgiveness thing is serious. Scary serious.

So he means it—that we are actually supposed to do the impossible– forgiving not just seven times but seven times seven. Or in other words, always, all the time. Perhaps Jesus wants to blow our hair back a bit here with this violent parable because of those last two words—your heart. It is your heart on the line. Refusing to forgive, as the Buddha points out, is like grasping hot coal to throw at another. It is the throwers hand that gets burned. Holding onto hurt hurts us. Forgiving is our healing work, too. When we are brave enough to forgive from our own heart, it is our heart that is changed. That heart change frees us to live more fully, to love more fiercely, to know God more closely.

Forgiveness is the way out. It opens up a whole new future full of possibility. The landowner shows the slave the way out, but he doesn’t choose to follow. God shows us the way by forgiving us every day. Then, God invites us to give it a try, to find freedom in letting go of the need to keep score, letting go of the anger inside of us. We’ll fall short. Of course. We’re human. But the more we ask for God’s patience and recognize that we are shown mercy, the more courageous we can be to have a change of heart ourselves.

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