1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5: 8-14
John 9: 1-41
You are probably familiar with the old saw that “there are none so blind as those who fail to see.” Our reading this morning from the Gospel according to Saint John is an obvious case in point. The whole lection turns on the irony that the man born blind sees and understands Jesus’ true identity as the “Son of Man” and the “light of the world,” while Jesus’ sighted opponents, “blind guides,” completely fail to grasp the obvious power and sanctity of this man of God. Even if they were unwilling to go as far as the blind man in asserting that Jesus is indeed the “Messiah,” the “Christ” of God, they know that their own tradition is not lacking in “signs and wonders” performed by the many prophets of God. And Jesus seems to anticipate his opponents’ willful ignorance because he goes to the trouble of mixing his saliva with mud and applying it to the blind man’s eyes. He could have simply commanded the restoration of his sight, as he does on other occasions in the Gospels, but, because the folk medicine of Jesus’ time invested saliva with medicinal qualities, he goes to the extra trouble of making the special poultice. Then he orders the blind man to rinse his eyes in the pool of Siloam, the collecting pond for the waters of the holy city Jerusalem, originating in the “living waters” of the Gihon Spring and passing through the Temple precincts—all highly symbolic places of special holiness in Second-Temple Judaism. And for those with “eyes to see” among St. John the Evangelist’s community of Jewish-Christians approximately seventy years later, the anticipation of the “illumination” that comes with Holy Baptism would have been obvious as well. Jesus gives the blind man not just his physical sight; he gives him spiritual vision as well. The “Christ” is the “light” by which we see light; the primordial light of the Creation that enters the cosmos even before the celestial bodies in the Genesis story of creation. In a culture so steeped in Temple and Torah, the failure to understand the meaning and import of Jesus’ “signs and wonders” can only be described as obtuseness at best, and incorrigible ignorance at worst. Continue reading →
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
If you have been paying close attention to our election campaigns—at every level of government—over recent years, you will have noticed that we Americans seem to have a great hunger just now for “hope” and “change.” Many candidates for elected office—some more strident and vulgar than others—have even made these elusive realities the explicit watchwords of their campaigns with such slogans as “Hope”; “Change You Can Believe In”; and “Make America Great Again.” And this is hardly surprising in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; widening income inequality; amoral globalization with its random winners and losers; and the protracted and continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with ancillary military operations in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and in Iraqi Kurdistan against ISIS. And just when we in the west thought that the “Cold War” was a thing of the distant past, the world’s two largest nuclear powers are in a stand-off once again in east central Europe—this time in Ukraine, Crimea, and the Baltic nations—in what The New Yorker magazine has just this week officially dubbed the “New Cold War.” War, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, economic recession, environmental degradation, predatory globalization, and expanding income inequality have made it clear to all save the most obtuse that our present course is simply unsustainable at every level of world governance. We now need deep, structural changes and a new international system as a matter of mere species survival. Continue reading →
Of the many so-called hard sayings of Jesus, his commands in this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew may well be the hardest of all. It is challenge enough to love and to forgive your neighbor or your kin; it’s quite another matter to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ clear admonition has perplexed and challenged the individual Christian conscience for millennia, and it has vexed nations and empires since the beginning of the Christian era. Is it a categorical mandate for pacifism, or just a caution to individuals and nations contemplating the use of violence and war as “an extension of politics by other means,” to use the apt and famous phrase of Karl von Clausewitz? God knows that we have witnessed both aplenty during the blood-soaked twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ranging from Gandhi’s non-violent movement to drive the British Raj from India, followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s struggle for American civil rights in the 1960s; to World War l, that so-called war to end all wars, and its extension known as World War ll—the “good war” fought by “the greatest generation.” And what about the horror of the Shoah, and the train of genocides during the second half of the twentieth century in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur in the wake of that “good” war? Should the international community have decisively invoked its “obligation to protect” and have used effective military force to end the carnage in those places? And what should the United Nations Security Council do right now about the ISIS genocide of Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in areas under its control, together with the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated every day for nearly six years in Syria, together with the genocide about to break out in South Sudan? Try as we may, we cannot and, as Christians, we may not duck these difficult moral dilemmas with a quick reference to Jesus’ words in this morning’s Gospel. Our time and place in human history demand answers and urgent action, not soothing evasions, for in a world awash in nuclear weapons, and in the midst of the greatest migration and refugee crisis since World War ll, even inaction is a moral decision demanding a moral reckoning. Continue reading →
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
It’s not very often that our popular culture provides us with a touchstone for understanding the Gospels. As I prayed these propers in preparation for today’s homily, however, I thought of the classic film starring Bette Davis, “All about Eve.” There is a marvelous scene in the movie when the upstart actress Eve Harrington unexpectedly stands in for the famous and renowned actress Margot Channing, played by Bette Davis, who is late for a dress rehearsal of her latest Broadway play. The conniving Eve has invited the cynical and debonair theater critic, appropriately named Addison DeWitt, from the New York Times to witness her rehearsal performance. He is appropriately impressed by her acting and writes in his review that the ingénue Eve is all “fire and light.” After reading the review, in which the acerbic critic is also careful to remind his readers of Ms. Channing’s advancing years, Bette Davis’ character grouses, “Fire and Light, Fire and Light. What am I, just an old kazoo and sparklers?” Continue reading →
Like many of you, I have been both fascinated and inspired these last four years by the world’s reaction to Pope Francis: the bishop of Rome; the Roman Catholic Church’s leader; a genuine peacemaker; and an emissary of God’s mercy and pastoral concern for all humanity. He has clearly created quite a stir among both the churched and the un-churched across the globe, including members of other Christian communions as well. And it has been a very long time since—not one, but two—papal documents known as Apostolic Exhortations, an ordinarily obscure and unnoticed Vatican pronouncement, have achieved bestseller status and have been commented upon and debated by so many in the media. They have even attracted commentary from political leaders at the highest level. Our own clergy, wardens, and vestry here at Trinity have “read, marked, and inwardly digested” (BCP) this first Jesuit pope’s stirring exhortation to evangelism, entitled The Joy of the Gospel, and have been moved to enlarge our new parish’s mission statement to include the aspiration to become “contemplatives in action”: missionary disciples and evangelists for whom prayer leads us to action, and action leads us back to prayer. We have multiple copies of The Joy of the Gospel in the parish office for any of you who may be curious—or even inspired—to explore for yourself the cause of the great fuss.
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
When I first prayed this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, I was immediately struck by just how little we know about Joseph, the beloved spouse of Mary. He is not even mentioned in the gospels according to Mark and John and, in Matthew’s and Luke’s, the two gospels with “infancy narratives,” Joseph drops out of the story entirely, well before Jesus begins his public ministry. While all kinds of pious legends about Saint Joseph developed later in the Christian tradition, we have only these few portraits of him from the canonical gospels themselves. This week, as I prayed these propers for today’s homily, I felt that I wanted to know more about this man who, like Mary, had acquiesced so graciously to God’s plan for the world’s redemption and salvation. Who was he, I found myself asking in my prayer, and where did he find the astonishing equanimity to say “yes” to God’s improbable and decisive entrance once again into human experience? Continue reading →
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Like it or not, our Gospel for this Second Sunday of Advent challenges us with two profoundly counter-cultural realities in our time and place: prophecy and repentance. As we continue our spiritual preparation to celebrate the birth of the Messiah two-thousand years ago, and to welcome him anew into our hearts and into our world—now, and at the close of the age—holy Church asks us to hear and to heed the fundamental message of the prophets of God throughout salvation history. For, regardless of the historical circumstances, every prophet has sounded one clear and consistent message over the ages: The “people of God” have fallen short of the glory God intends for them, and they must remedy matters by “repenting,” by “changing the direction from which they are seeking their happiness.” Whether it’s by the Hebrew word “teshuvah” or the Greek word “metanoia,” the biblical call to repentance always requires a radical “change of mind and heart,” a turn-around, and reformation of life.
It should come as no surprise, then, that prophets themselves are usually even less popular than their message. And very often, they find themselves either expelled from their community or murdered by the “Powers and Principalities” of this world, as Saint Paul refers to them. It was true for the prophets of the Hebrew Bible; it was true for the prophets of Jesus’ own time; and, regrettably, it will be true for the prophets of today and of every era. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah and the focus of today’s Gospel, suffered beheading at the command of Herod Antipas—Rome’s puppet ruler of the Galilee—after which John’s head was presented on a silver platter to Antipas’ wicked stepdaughter Salome. According to the Gospels, the news of John’s judicial murder shook Jesus to his very core—and for obvious reasons. His execution was the prologue to Jesus’ own Passion and Death. Continue reading →