In the past year the Islamic State and its affiliates have opened our eyes to our capacity to commit cruelty to other human beings. Or, rather, ISIS has reminded us of our capacity for cruelty. I think we’ve known all along how inhuman we “humans” can be. The Passion Gospel we have just heard reminds us that human cruelty is nothing new, that we’ve known all along of our ability to do things cruel and brutal.
We might think that the news has desensitized us to the shock of the Passion Gospel. But I have a hunch that your reaction to it is similar to mine: as much as I have heard the Passion Gospel before, and as much as I read the news, hearing the Passion Gospel just now I’m feeling angry, dismayed, sad, helpless and confused. Continue reading →
I think we all know what’s coming. I think we know what Jesus means when he says in today’s Gospel lesson, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” I think we know, too, what the author of the letter to the Hebrews means when he says that Jesus is a high priest who “suffered” and was “made perfect.” I think we all know that next Sunday is Palm Sunday and the week following is Holy Week. I think we all know what’s coming; we all know that Jesus’ Passion and death are just around the corner.
If I’m not mistaken, there seems to be a certain giddiness in today’s readings. Notice, for example, the triumphant tone in the letter to the Hebrews: Jesus has “been made perfect,” and has “been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” Notice how in John Jesus bravely and serenely predicts the manner of his death: “I, when I am raised up, will draw all people to myself.” And notice how Jeremiah excitedly speaks of a new and better covenant known by all: “I will write it on their hearts… and they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Continue reading →
One of the reasons I love Lent is because Lent is an opportunity to “get back to the basics.” Our scriptures this morning touch on several Christian “basics.” The first lesson is the Ten Commandments – a Christian “basic” if there ever was one. The second lesson speaks about the cross – another important “basic.” But the “basic” I want to focus on this morning is one for which this morning’s Gospel story provides a good metaphor.
Jesus Purging the Temple by Giotto
The “basic” I want to talk about is… the images we have of God. Not the stated images of God that we say we have, like “God is love.” But the operative images of God, the images that actually operate in our relationship with God – like, “God is a god of impossibly demanding expectations from which I always fall short.” We all carry images of God with us – some from an early age – and these images shape the way we relate to God in our lives. Not all of these images are helpful; some impinge on our freedom or diminish our sense of personhood or in some way are marked by coercion or passivity or cynicism, and undermine the possibility of a healthy relationship with God. From time to time in our spiritual life it helps to “Take these things out of here,” to drive out from our inner “Temple” old images of God (the “livestock” and “money changers” that have accrued there), and to make space for a God who is more “God,” more true, healthy and whole. Continue reading →
One of the true joys of working with teenagers and young adults over my thirty-two years of teaching has been their complete unwillingness to tolerate fraud and hypocrisy: they can smell it miles away. This means that when you’re speaking with them—especially about important and ultimate things—they require complete honesty and absolutely no equivocation whatsoever. They seem constitutionally incapable of tolerating evasion, and they will always ask: Why? Young people literally demand to know the truth—“the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” as they say. So, the exchange between the teacher Jesus and his student disciples at Caesarea Philippi in this morning’s Gospel reminded me of many such exchanges between me and my students in the religious-studies classroom. One question leads to another question, until we finally get to the heart of the matter. And things are never what they first appear to be. Nothing should be taken at face value.
At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death. The Genesis reading is part of the flood story, which wiped out all humankind save Noah’s family. The lesson from 1 Peter speaks of Christ suffering for sins, and how he was “put to death in the flesh.” And this morning’s Gospel lesson introduces the personification of sin himself, Satan, who tempts Jesus in the wilderness. At first glance, this morning’s readings look to be about sin and death. But if I look more closely at this morning’s readings I begin to see that today’s readings are not so much about sin and death as they are about redemption and life. Continue reading →
In summertime, my favorite time to go to the beach is around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. The crowds will have dispersed and it’s easy to park; the heat of the day is past, but the air is still plenty warm. There is ample space in the sand to set up chairs or spread out towels. And – if we stay long enough – the beach at sunset is beautiful. The shorebirds that hid during the mid-day heat come back out, and fly about and sing. The breeze tends to die down. The shadows from the dunes lengthen over the beach, and the waters grow progressively deeper and darker blue as the sun sets. If waves are breaking, their white tops shine forth in the fading evening light. And if we stay a really long time, the sand will slowly cool off, the brighter planets, and then stars, will become visible. Depending on its cycle, the moon’s light may be reflecting on the sea. To be at the beach in the late afternoon and dusk leaves me with a real sense of completion, of wholeness. Continue reading →