Why Did He Do It?

5th Sunday Ordinary time,  2-4-18

Job7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147: 1-6, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, is credited as one of the main points of emergence for the feminist movement.  She encouraged many other women to enter professional jobs and employment in business, industry and government.

It was a seismic shift for the American culture which produced a broad range of response. Some screamed that a mother taking young children to day care was an evil rejection of nature and responsibility.  Some demanded that all women must be employed to find their dignity and purpose.   Women had to find a balance between the extremes of being limited in their options or trying to lead both the life of a corporate leader and the mom who did everything.

So today we hear the story of Simon/ Peter’s mother-in-law. It tells us that Peter is not the simple fisherman.  He has a wife.  There is no mention of children, but the idea of Peter, Jr., drifts thru our minds.  Is this a peaceful house or is the mother-in-law having some kind of stress reaction to Peter’s coming into the house with a bunch of hungry men?  We could construct lots of different scenarios, but this is a reading from the Gospel of Mark, and Mark tells his stories in a straightforward way.  We will not be graced with more details.

However, we do know that Jesus is “immediately” told that Mrs. Peter’s mother is sick with a fever. Here we meet the first problem with culture.  We shrug, and say, “So?”  Put her in the car, take her down to the Minute clinic, get her some antibiotics and she’ll be fine by tomorrow, right?  Wrong, of course.  This is 30 AD.  No car, no urgent care, no diagnosis, no pharmaceuticals.  Just fear of what might be wrong, fear of long term disabling decline.

And Jesus “grasped her hand and helped her up”. The fever was gone and “she waited on them”.  Under our liberated breath, we mutter, “Couldn’t they have just gone to the store or drive thru and gotten something to eat?  Did he heal her just so she could fix them dinner?”

Well, as harsh as it sounds, it is a reasonable question. Why did Jesus heal this woman? And knowing that a horde of people who were physically and psychologically sick were about to gather outside the house, why would Jesus submit this woman to having “the whole town gathered at her door”?  To find the answer, we must put on the brakes, back up, and reset the clock.  One of the least productive things we can do to a good Bible story is to interpret it in the light of today instead of understanding what was happening in that day, in time past.  That is how to understanding what Jesus’ intent was with the Mother-in-law, and with us.

In that day, a woman worked from sun up to sun set to feed and clothe the family. From growing the food to preparing it to keeping the fire going to hauling water, to raising sheep for wool, weaving cloth, sewing clothing, washing  – you get the idea, sort of.  I doubt if any of us have ever had to create food, clothing, and shelter, everything, from scratch.  It is over-whelming to a 21st century suburban middle class American when you think about it.

The point is that women then had no other options available to them. And did you miss the fact that Peter’s mother-in-law would be a widow, or she would not be living in his house?  She was totally dependent on her family, and without them she would die, quite literally, of starvation or lack of shelter.  In exchange for life itself, she is more than eager to take on the tasks of the household and take pride in using all those skills she learned through the years.

But she was sick, and suddenly not an asset but a burden. She was terrified.  Was Jesus restoring her to health for his convenience?  No! Not at all. He restored her to her place in society, a place where her dignity was secure and she could be admired for her skills.  She was freed to be able to provide hospitality to her guests and the community; she was eager to share this with the whole village.  She, an older woman, was the center of a miracle, the first sick person to be healed by Jesus, the example that everyone would remember.  She was no longer just a widow whose prime had passed; now, she was someone.

Jesus continued to cure, to heal, to restore the sick to their places of wholeness.  That is an idea that transcends culture and time.  In our day, being productive in a job offers people independence and a boost to self-image.  When someone is released to go back to work after an injury or illness, once again enjoy their place in society and feel they are “part of life”.

The same is true for spiritual healing. In fact, we could talk about Jesus’ time on earth by thinking about redemption and restoration.  His death on the cross was a “one-time forever victory” which redeemed everyone. He “saved” us and opened a way to God’s love and forgiveness.  His teaching and actions restored us to how God created us to be, and he commanded us to continue that restoration with others.

It is the first responsibility of the Church to share the message of the Good News of Easter with people.  Discipleship begins when people discover the freeing power of redemption, by being re-connected with God’s forgiveness.  Worship and prayer are not an obligation; instead, worship & prayer are the natural language of those who are redeemed.

The second responsibility of the Church, that is us, is the work of restoring the sick, the addicted, the poor, the marginalized, the lost, to wholeness. We call that outreach, or mission.  Restoration is also called the “coming of the kingdom”.  If “saving the world” is redemption, then “changing the world” is restoration.  Deep love and dynamic caring are not a social norm; instead they are the natural behavior of the restored.

Those are big ideas, but crucial ideas to the growth and success of Holy Trinity and any Christian community. I will be sharing concrete and practical information about them with you in the weeks ahead. So, remember what Jesus did after he healed this widow – he prayed.  Please pray for our church that it may be a place of redemption and restoration.

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What does Salvation mean, anyway ?

Holy Family, 12-31-17

Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Psalm 105: 1-9, Hebrews 11: 8, 11,12,17-19; Luke 2: 22-40

We read today from the 2nd chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke makes Jesus the focal point to explain the loving and generous ways of God. Luke frequently uses the title “Lord” for Jesus. “Lord” is the same name used for God in the Greek Old Testament. Jesus, Luke tells us, is God come to earth. Jesus came to all people. Luke takes great effort to relate how Jesus brought salvation to the poor, women, children, “sinners”, and outcasts (like the Samaritans).

In fact, two of Luke’s favorite expressions are “preach the gospel” and “salvation.” “Preaching the Gospel” includes the entire ministry of Jesus- his teaching, healing, and compassion were all part of the good news that God has come to His people. “Salvation” is defined in Luke 19:10 this way: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Too often Christians use this word but aren’t so sure what it means. The words salvation and “Savior” both come from the same Latin word (salvare), which means to save. The basic idea of being saved or salvation is that God will “find and free” us from any kind of evil, just as God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God frees us to fully participate in all the goodness of life and in all the blessings of God. It makes sense then that God wishes to save us from sin as well as the evils that are the consequences of sin. Jesus acts as the “middle man” or mediator who suffers and dies to bring us this salvation both now and in eternal life.

So, with that long introduction, we begin with the Jewish ritual purification of Mary, when a sacrifice of turtledoves or pigeons was offered 40 days after the birth of a child, as required by the Law of Moses in Leviticus 12. The mother is welcomed back into the community after the birth.

A second ritual was also completed, that being the “redeeming” of a first born child. All first born children – and animals, for that matter – were presumed to belong to God. Children were “bought back” with a small offering of money. You can find that Law in Exodus 13:13. God-fearing parents of every century feel the need to thank God for the miracle of a child. It’s a tradition that makes great sense. The parents publically proclaim the child is theirs, as a gift from God, and they will support, nurture, teach, and raise the child in the faith. These traditions introduce the infant to the worship of God in the community of believers, not unlike Christian infant baptism.

This scene with the infant Jesus also underlines the larger idea of redemption. For Christians, redemption is closely tied to salvation. Marie Monville wrote this: “To redeem means to exchange one thing for another, to buy back, to recover the value of something by exchanging it for another. God replaces…weakness with his strength, the ugliness of sin with the beauty of forgiveness, the blackest darkness with his brilliant light.”  It is sort of like redeeming something in a pawn shop!  In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, St. Paul wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price”. That is the Catholic view of the crucifixion – that the price Jesus paid for us to be redeemed and freed from sin was his own life.

Two significant messages are then delivered by Simeon and Anna. Simeon, a “righteous and devout man” was looking for the “consolation of Israel” – meaning the salvation which the Messiah was to bring. Messiah is an Aramaic word meaning “liberator”, which means the same as “Savior”. Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah, and now he proclaims that he has seen the Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not only the Jews. Simeon says, “…my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” God has kept his promise to Simeon, to the prophets (Isaiah 49:6), and to King David.

Simeon offers a blessing of thanksgiving to God and a blessing of prophecy to Mary and Joseph. Out of Simeon’s mouth comes a very precise statement of the miracle of Jesus: the child brings peace and the promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled. In addition, Jesus is the entrance of God into the world for all people; he is a revelation and light (new understanding). Jesus will bring salvation and judgment; he will bring lasting changes to the world, and the changes will result in a strong push-back from the darkness in the world.

One of the unique traits of Luke’s Gospel is that he often introduces a strong man counterbalanced by a woman. Luke names this woman, which is highly unusual in writings of the day; we actually have more information about Anna than Simeon. We know her age, her father’s name and her tribe. Luke tells us that Anna, like Simeon, was very devout, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” She too said a prayer of thanksgiving for the child Jesus and, like the shepherds, immediately “spoke of (Jesus) to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna’s waiting is over, her patience has been rewarded, and then she participates in the preaching of the Gospel.

As always, God chooses us (all) and provides what we need to be in a personal relationship with our Creator. We are offered freedom from slavery to sin and darkness, the price has been paid, and we must act on our choice. That is one reason we have all those Bible characters who are flawed and foolish; we read about them stumble and fall, then ask for forgiveness and return to right relationship (what Christians call righteousness) with God. And people who experience this freedom want to share it with others. Amazing – all this from just a portion of the 2nd chapter of Luke!

2-adventAs the second week of Advent begins, we once again see the appearance of John the Baptist. John at the time of Jesus’ birth would have himself been an infant. Yet, in the view of the church and the liturgical year, the birth of Christ is seen in the context of Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. As a prophet John played an important part and so in preparation for celebrating Christ’s birth, John the Baptist is brought forth to remind us how to prepare, even as to how the prophets of old spoke to the people. Repairing ourselves and our relationships, seeking peace with our neighbor and those around us and looking out for the poor and others who can not adequately care for themselves are all important things. All of us are called to do these things. Truly it is an always type of thing we are called to do, but often need to be reminded. How often do we lose sight of others and focus on ourselves. Only by prayerfully looking into ourselves can we reach out and do what our commitment to faith and love calls for us to do.2-advent-1
John’s call to repent is to ask us to do just that. In ancient times, water, fire, wind(spirit) were considered liquids. Water was for cleaning, refreshing, renewing. His baptism was meant to do just that. For John, Jesus would baptise with fire and the spirit. He would purify by fire and renew and unite us to him and the trinity through 2-advent-2the spirit. So, we see John’s mission was one to introduce and prepare for the whole of Christ’s mission. His birth was also a preparation for the birth of Jesus as he was the one chosen to make the way for he who was to come.
All of which leaves a practical question for each of us, and that is, What have we done and what are we doing to prepare for Christmas?

Of Kings and Cabbages, of Christ and Celebration

11-20-16 Readings:  Samuel 5:1-3  Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5 ,Colossians 1:12-20,  Luke 23:35-43

Most of us have some pretty weird images in our minds when we hear the word “King”. Perhaps you think of TV images of British royal family, with huge spectacles of weddings, the gloved hand waving slowly from the motorcade, and the invasive pictures taken by the tabloids.  Maybe you think of palaces, golden crowns with jewels, and social elites.  Some think about the King Arthur stories or movies of heavy handed monarchs with no compassion for the impoverished peasants they rule.  All in all, kings are not like anything in our lives, and, as students of American history, we may even have a cultural dislike and distrust of kings.

So we find ourselves at a loss to understand why we would celebrate Christ as a King. I will suggest that we should travel back in time, back to King David of the Old Testament.  I pick this point in time because we are about to begin the season of Advent, and will soon read that Jesus was of the family of David; there is something special about the Kingship of David.

Our 1st reading comes from 2nd Samuel, the book of history about the reign of David.  Saul was the 1st king of Israel.  God directed his prophet Samuel to anoint David as the next king.  After Saul’s death, all of the tribes of Israel came to David and announced, “Here we are, your bone and your flesh.  (When) Saul was king, it was you who led the Israelite army out (to war) and brought them back (triumphant).  (God) said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel (in their relationships with each other and with me) and shall be commander (of the military forces) of Israel.’”  This marks the moment when twelve tribes, previously only loosely connected, really became a unified kingdom.  What were they saying?  Their sense of solidarity under David’s rule was so strong that they refer to Genesis 2:23, when God makes a woman from the man and Adam exclaims, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  The tribal leaders of Israel are declaring their people to be one with this King who was chosen by God.

Our Psalm offers a snapshot of exactly this – all of the tribes in Jerusalem, flowing up to the temple together.  The people are rejoicing in each other as they feel the unity, and they rejoice at being together and in worshiping God as one community.  This is also an image of the heavenly Jerusalem, where for eternity we come to God, cleansed of our ideological differences, as one body in love.

From this we get powerful images that transcend culture and time. We are all one in God.  God walks closely with us; God is the source of all that is good.  Amazingly, God took David, an adulterer and murderer, a warrior and politician, and used his gifts to make a unified people out of twelve tribes which had fought among and against themselves.  We too, can be somewhat less than perfect, and still be God’s beloved people, in a mutually loving relationship, and our gifts can be used to bring peace and community from hatred and chaos.

But we cannot miss the image of warrior in this story, because that image led to the popular idea of the Messiah, or Christ, as a military leader, a King like David, who subdued all of Israel’s enemies.  The people of Jesus’ time were more than willing to believe that the Messiah would destroy the Roman armies that oppressed them, and would bring peace to Israel once more.  As a result, the Romans took no chances with this “so-called” Messiah.  The sign, “This is the King of the Jews” makes the crime against Roman power clear.  It is the lowest of mean-spirited domination to use the title of “King” in this way.  The crucifixion of Christ offers an opportunity for the rulers, the soldiers, and the thieves to mock Jesus, this man who apparently will do nothing to save his own life.

But love that is willing to suffer is greater than the power to dominate.   Jesus is indeed a King, but his reign does not end at the temporal limits of one place or time.  He tells the thief who defends him, that “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What is it with that “today” thing? It is a term Luke uses to announce a significant and almost breathtaking change.  While not necessarily some measure of time, it marks an event has begun a new day in our lives.  At the nativity story in Luke 2:11, the angel tells the shepherds that “Today a savior is born; he is Christ the Lord.  In the synagogue of Nazareth in Luke 4:21, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 that he has been anointed to preach, proclaim, recover, and release, and says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.  In Luke 19:9, Jesus says of Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house…for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  Suddenly, the Kingdom of God has broken through and the unexpected, the unimaginable has happened, “Today,” St Paul would say in Colossians, “(We were) delivered from the power of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

And so, an entirely new image of “king” has entered our lives. It is the reversal of all that we may have been thinking.  He is the king who serves us, not the mighty monarch we cower before.  He is the king who died at human hands, so that we can join him in eternity, not the warrior who sends us out to fight his battles.  He does not have an army.  He has no need to protect himself, but he shields us.  He forgives those who offend his laws; he does not punish but restores.   He does not tax, but invites us to his banquet.  He is ridiculed, scorned, mocked, and appears politically powerless, yet he performs miracles and leans his ear to the softest whispering of a prayer.  This is a King who has no need of violence or vengeance, no use for envy or lust or desire, yet he controls the wind and the waves.  This King is innocent of any sin, yet knows all of our follies, loving us while we are at our worst.  This King needs no riches, furs or purple robes, but is himself the source of all beauty.

In the end, we call Jesus “King” because our vocabularies do not yet know the fullness of his Glory. The Title “King” tells us more of what he is not than what he is.  But he gave us a concrete gift that we hold dear.  Jesus left us the gift of the Eucharist, where we draw together, like King David’s people, where we can be joyful as we recall his life and teachings, his death and triumphant resurrection, where we know we are one with the body and blood of our Christ, and will be forever.