Friday, February 26, 2021

Gospel text for Sunday 28 February 2021

 Mark 8:31-38        Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Reflection        Who wants to hear the teacher’s instruction, “Take up your cross and follow me?” And what in the world does it mean to, “Take up your cross” anyway? Throughout the years I have stumbled  over a variety of possible explanations. Today I believe twenty first century Jesus might express it this way, “Consent to your humanity as I do.” Why do I think this? 

Mark’s gospel begins with the acclamation, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.” (1.1) Ten verses later at Jesus’ baptism  “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (1.11) Twice identified as Son of God nonetheless Jesus calls himself Son of Man. What is this about?

I believe in calling himself Son of Man Jesus is consenting to his human condition; subject to every emotion, challenge, conflict, suffering, benediction and finally to his mortality. Although Jesus finds his spiritual identity in God as affirmed in his baptism, he also recognizes his corporeal identity in his humanity. The cross stands for the coherence of the spiritual and corporeal; humanity (our fickle human condition) represented by the horizontal beam fastened to our trustworthy vertical stanchion, identity in God.

Jesus is the Son of God and also the Son of Man, which thankfully establishes Jesus as one of us. As beloved sons and daughters who from the very beginning are made in the image and likeness of God we too must consent to our fickle humanity as well as our trustworthy identity as daughters and sons of God. We too must take up the cross, following the way of Jesus.

Like Jesus we find our identity in God as affirmed in our baptism, but that does not procure for us a “get out of jail free” card. (Clearly that did not work for Jesus!)  Even though we are daughters and sons of God we must also consent to our temperamental human condition, subject to every emotion, challenge, conflict, suffering, benediction and finally to our mortality. The way of the cross is the way of life grounded in God and subject to the volatile human condition. 

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Friday, February 19, 2021

Hebrew Text & Gospel for Sunday 21 February 2021

Genesis 9:8-17        God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Mark 1:9-15        In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and b

believe in the good news.

Reflection       Seven years ago my younger brother died of a rare and raging blood cancer. While speaking on the phone to my nephew, my brother’s son, he said, “ Dad is dying right now. I have to go.” With all of the air kicked out of my gut I stumbled outside, dangled my feet in the pool and raged at God. “You better make good on your promise to be with my brother.” And as God is my witness I tell you, on this sun smothered June afternoon with hardly a cloud in the sky a rainbow appeared rising from the Catalinas, a wee bit north of Mount Lemmon. I wept. I wept because I knew that even though my brother had no faith in God and zero use for religion, God was faithful to him and all was well. 

This is the promise, “the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Never again will God abandon any one of us. And ever since that June afternoon when in the wake of my brother’s death God’s rainbow affirmed God’s uncompromising promise, during every Memorial Celebration of life that I have had the privilege of celebrating  I have been able to preach Paul’s words to the Romans with unwavering conviction,  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God … ” (Ro 8.38-39)

God is faithful, even when we are not. As people of God we need this assurance because as soon as we are baptized, as quickly as the priest pours water over our crowns and marks us with holy oil as God’s own forever, like Jesus we are driven directly to the wilderness. We are cast into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, taunted by wild beasts and also cared for by the angels. Just in case you are wondering what that wilderness looks like, stop and look around. 

The wilderness is the thin ice of existence on which we all skate, the dubious daze and erratic maze of life that we call reality. The wilderness is history’s playground replete with adversity and advantage, blessing and curse, hardship and comfort, pleasure and affliction. You see, just as quickly as we, like Jesus, realize we are God’s beloved, we are driven into the wilderness to be tempted, humbled, refined and compelled along the way to Jerusalem.

“What is the way to Jerusalem?” I believe it is the long walk of life, the mariner’s cruise, the sojourner’s trek, the simple persons shuffle through puzzling days and sleepless nights. For those inclined toward things relating to the Spirit or soul, the walk to Jerusalem is understood as the Spiritual Journey of the lover moving toward union and unity with the Beloved. For the less spiritually inclined the way to Jerusalem may seem to be the road of baseless suffering bent on an arch toward doom. 

When almost all of the earth was destroyed by a flood, God made an everlasting covenant with all that lives, represented by a rainbow bridging earth and sky. This is the good news of God with us through floods, fires, freezes and political sea changes;  through climate catastrophes and pandemics, isolation, desolation as well as consolation. God is faithful, no matter what. So stop wagging your tongues and waving your fingers. Put down your complaints and turn around.  Repent. Believe the good news. God is near. Open the eyes of your heart to see God’s rainbow.

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Friday, February 12, 2021

Gospel text for The Transfiguration 14 February 2021

Mark 9:2-9        Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Reflection      For years  I read  Mark’s gospel text with my eyes darkened by Jesus’ glowing religious experience. The image of Jesus’ changed face and dazzling clothes blinded me to Peter, James and John’s phenomenal mountain top experience. I was swept away by Jesus’ special status, the chosen one with direct access to the wisdom of the prophets.  Like Peter, I wanted to build a church around Jesus, proclaim a glow in the dark theology and make Jesus separate, sovereign and special. I struggled to capture Jesus with words and creeds, doctrine and denominational politics. But something was missing. 

Thankfully the cloud of unknowing finally descended upon me and opened my eyes to recognize Peter, James and John’s indubitable religious experience and finally hear the voice from the cloud… “Listen to him.” It did NOT say "look at him."

One of my favorite contemporary scripture scholars is the Jesuit Dr. Sandra Schneiders. Pointing to the poignancy of listening Schneiders writes, “To see another is to encounter a person’s “surface,” to “stand before” or “be in the presence of” another. But speaking/hearing (the one always implies the other) is a mutual entering into interiority. By speaking/hearing, the two persons open the walls surrounding their inner selves, and their heretofore incommunicable experiences are put in common. They both now live in a different world, a world they share, rather than in two separate worlds (Schneiders, 34-35)*.

Listening to Jesus means opening ourselves to participate in his incommunicable experience and allowing ourselves to be transfigured. This prospect is daunting. No wonder we would rather keep our eyes glued to him and distract ourselves with questions; “How did his face actually change? If there was a video camera on top of the mountain would we see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah? Does this glowing moment mean Jesus is more than merely human? What is the true nature of Jesus anyway? Is he of the same substance of God, or us, or something else? How shall we preserve and ritualize this moment? What type of organization shall we establish to insure that everyone believes and says the correct things about Jesus? Who decides what the correct things are? 

Preoccupied with these questions we forget to ‘listen to him,’ to go beneath a surface encounter with the historical person Jesus and experience the transfiguring intimacy of communion. No doubt this is the defensive work of our egos that know if we “open the walls surrounding (our) inner selves” and share our interior experiences, we will be changed. In Schneiders words again, “…and live in a different world, a world (we) share, rather than in two separate worlds.” 

If we dare to breach our walls, with open hearts and open minds we not only stand at the top of the mountain in the presence of God but we also step into the sphere of interior reality in which we are changed into more beautiful, radiant revelations of the Spiritual world we inhabit by faith. 

The tumultuous tide of our times assures us, the cloud of unknowing is upon us. From our shadowy depths we hear, “Listen, listen to Him.” Are you listening?

* Schneiders, Sandra  The Revelatory Text: Interpreting The New testament as Sacred Scripture, 1999.

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Saturday, February 6, 2021

Gospel Text for Sunday 7 February 2021

 Mark 1:29-39        Jesus left the synagogue at Capernaum, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

We hear a lot about doses these days. How many doses of vaccine do you need for some degree of immunity to the coronavirus? How many doses of vaccine are required to insure you will not transmit the virus to others? How many doses have you had? How likely is it you will need booster doses to deal with virus variants? Would it not be possible to take care of all these issues with one big megadose?

This talk about doses makes me wonder about prayer. How many doses of prayer do we need to live our lives with faith, hope and love, to  strengthened us to bow our heads with our brother Jesus and mean it when we say, “Not my will, your will be done?” How many doses of prayer do we need?

 It turns out that punctuating our lives with prayer is a widely accepted practice. It is the Anglican Episcopal tradition to pray the Daily Offices, at least three times and as many as five. Our Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and monastic sisters and brothers all teach the value of ordering our lives around regular periods of prayer every day. 

We are actually counseled to pray even more frequently than five, ten or fourteen times each day. In what may be the earliest letter to one of the first Christian churches, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy write to strengthen the new Thessalonian Christians as they face persecution.  “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5.16-18) A theme continued in Paul’s letter to the Romans when he writes,  “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Ro 12.12) 

Apparently a single Sunday megadose of prayer is not sufficient to live a Christian life strengthened in faith, illumined by hope and manifest with love. 

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, (Jesus) got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Following the frenzy of healings and exorcisms the night before, in the hush of predawn darkness Jesus rises and goes to a deserted place to refresh and replenish his strength and healing power in relationship with God.

All that Jesus says and all that Jesus does is a manifestation of his relationship in God. I believe Jesus goes off to pray alone to strengthen his faith, illumine his hope and embody his love. Jesus understands that his healings and exorcisms, his parables and preaching are outward and visible signs of the power and Presence of God with him. And so Jesus never stops praying, he never ceases turning toward God, the source and sustenance of his life and ministry. Which is how even in the midst of unspeakable suffering Jesus is able to pray, “Not my will but your will be done.”

As daughters and sons of God I believe we too must acknowledge our complete and utter dependence on God, God who is closer to us than our own breath, God who is the source and sustenance of all that we say and all that we do, God in whom we are to align our will.

It takes courage and faith that God really is with us to drop the weapons we deploy to keep other people and situations we do not relish at a safe distance. It takes courage and faith that God really is with us to walk church outside the building walls and powerfully manifest our interconnected, interdependent relationships with one another and 'those people' with whom we disagree.  It takes courage and faith that God really is with us to lay down our personal preferences and pray with Jesus, “Not my will but your will be done.”

One Sunday morning mega dose of praying “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” is not  sufficient to sustain my courage and faith in God with me as I navigate the moment to moment aches and agony, drama and disappointment, intrigue and injustice that constantly accost me. And so I find myself slipping away from the crowd to pray. I find my self pausing to pray before answering my phone, during zoom meetings, while waiting for my turn at self-check-out stations because one mega dose of prayer on Sunday is not enough to sustain me.

Let me ask you. How many doses of prayer do you need to ward off judgment, selfishness and greed? How many doses of prayer are required to strengthen your faith? give  you hope? free you to love? How many doses of prayer have you had? How likely is it you will need booster doses to deal with fear and temptation? Do you really think it is possible to live a life of faith, hope and love sustained on a single Sunday megadose of prayer each week?

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Friday, January 29, 2021

Gospel text for Sunday 31 January 2021

 Mark 1:21-28        Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Reflection       Jesus’ behavior is unthinkable. He crosses well established boundaries and gleans new life for himself and other people whom society consider unclean or unfit to be included.  He touches people whom social, political and religious convention deem unworthy to be seen, heard or included. He ruptures the boundaries of the status quo by recognizing value in the outcast and bringing it to light, which is actually healing.  This is what Jesus is doing when he walks into the synagogue in Capernum, teaching “as one with authority” and healing a man possessed “with an unclean spirit.” Jesus is breaching boundaries, unbinding and setting free.

Jesus is not authorized to enter the synagogue and teach. We have no evidence that he succeeded through the Sanhedrin ordination process, the ancient Jewish court system that determines who is a rabbi and has authority to teach. Nonetheless, Jesus enters the synagogue, teaches unapologetically and the people are astounded. This is the first boundary we watch Jesus bind. 

The second boundary has to do with orthodox Jewish tradition. As an observant Jew Jesus understands that it is necessary to maintain purity in order to approach God. Yet, he reaches out to a man possessed by an unclean spirit, a man who has no business being in the synagogue. By healing the possessed man Jesus is breaching a central religious boundary and making himself unclean. If that is not enough to provoke official ire, Jesus dares to cross a third boundary by doing the work of healing on the Sabbath. Truly, there is much controversy stemming from boundary issues, then and now.

Let me suggest the real issue that undergirds bickering about boundaries is authority. Who has the privilege and power to define boundaries? or borders? or gerrymanders?  What is the source of their authority? Who says?

In secular culture there are institutions devoted to credentialing people, conferring on them the privilege and power to teach or govern, to make decisions, exercise judgments, to define boundaries. This is also true for religious institutions.  But we have already noted that Jesus was not credentialed by the Sanhedrin. His authority does not come from social, political or religious institutions. Jesus’ authority is rooted in his relationship with God. 

In Mark’s text we engage Jesus “as one (who) has authority and not as the scribes.” He has authority to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to teach whatever he wants and to footnote no one. Jesus asserts his authority as a direct experience of Spirit, of God with him. By example Jesus is teaching us this new way, the way of direct experience of Spirit as the path of life that is not defined nor constrained by external systems of belief or boundaries. 

I believe the heart of Jesus’ teaching is showing us this new way of finding our authority and claiming our identity in relationship with God.      

 When we turn away from the quarrels and chaos of the social, political and religious systems that endeavor to define (and confine) us and choose instead to listen deeply for the movement of God’s Spirit with us, we unearth our own true self which is not other than God’s own self revealed uniquely through us.  The thing is, this means we must stop seeking approval from others. Instead of looking outside for our source of authority, we must turn around and look inside to our “with God life.”

Jesus did not seek approval from anyone. He did not quote the rabbis nor did he seek authorization from religious officials. Jesus listened and discerned how the Spirit of God moved him and he aligned his actions with it. The result is clear. Long after we forget the names of the priests and  rabbis who defined the purity codes and the names of the five hundred bishops who hammered out the Nicene Creed, we remember the name Jesus and the transforming power of his words in our lives.

Arguable the most influential being ever to walk this earth, Jesus did not need external authorization. What he needed was exactly what he had, his true self aligned in God. Jesus claimed his “with God life” and let the deepest truth of his being inform his every action, action meant for the good of others, even when it cost him everything. This is the "new teaching."

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Friday, January 22, 2021

 Mark 1:14-20       After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Reflection        What is good news for some; Democratic control of congress, limited government, mountains of fresh snow, is bad news for others; Democratic control of congress, limited government, mountains of fresh snow. Good news, bad news, it is a matter of perspective, right?

The first sentence of the Markan text reads, "The beginning of the euangelion (good news) of Jesus the Christ, son of God.” Just fourteen sentences later Jesus bursts onto the scene in Galilee preaching the euangelion (good news), "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the euangelion (believe the good news).” 

Euangelion is not your run of the mill, equivocal “good news.” In all four gospels  euangelion is more than news that satisfies our personal, social, political or religious preferences because this euangelion, this good news, is for everyone. Clearly, the English words “good news” are insufficient to communicate the full meaning and magnitude of Jesus’ euangelion. 

A little history. The Roman emperors of Jesus’ time understood themselves to be lords and saviors of the world. Their speeches (state of the union addresses) or messages (pastoral letters) were called evangelium which was the Latin equivalent of the Greek euangelion and meant, whatever comes from the emperor is more than a mere bit of news. The people were to believe that the emperor’s news would change the world for the better. The emperor’s words were good news for all. 

At issue is something truly remarkable. It was beyond bold for the writers of the four gospels to appropriate the word evangelium and use  euangelion in conjunction with the itinerant teacher Jesus because this word is rife with authority and reserved for the emperors’ communication. By appropriating this word the gospel writers are basically telling the people then and now, “The political officials who act as if gods, are making illegitimate claims. They do not have the power to save you or the world. Take another look. The power to change the world for the better is solely the purview of God.” 

In the Markan text immediately after his cousin John is arrested Jesus arrives on the scene in Galilee, “proclaiming the euangelion of God saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe…” This is truly euangelion. Regardless of whether the news of the day delights or disturbs us, the really, really, really good news is, God is here now. This news is more than words scratched on papyrus or signed executive orders. It is the living, breathing Word of God incarnate, Jesus who actually enters and transforms the world. Jesus, the Son of God is here, now, present and active. And the world is better for it. 

In light of the Word, God present, the empty promises of politicians are exposed. The idolatry and false piety of religious officials are revealed. Whoever recognizes Jesus as the Living Word of God will reject the secular and religious officials’ false claims to power. They will change their minds and follow the way of Jesus, the really, really, really unequivocal good news, euangellion.

Perhaps this is why Mark’s gospel reads like a boldly edited action film. One minute Jesus’ cousin John is arrested and immediately Jesus is proclaiming euangelion, news that will change the world for the better. The lectionary’s translation of the Greek text reads, “The kingdom of God is near.” I believe a better translation of the Greek engiz┼Ź is, “now present.” (Strongs G1448).  The kingdom of God is now present and that makes everything better. 

The writer of Mark’s gospel wastes no time setting the stage for Jesus’ apocalyptic entry. Jesus is going to change the world for the better and he needs help now, so he goes fishing for people. Apparently without hesitation Simon and his brother Andrew turn away from their livlihood and follow the way of Jesus. Wait another minute and Jesus catches another pair of brothers, James and John, who immediately stand up, turn away from their attachment to the past, their father,  and follow Jesus. 

We have to admit, this story is not very convincing which makes me think the writer was using words to point to something more than historical events. In some inexplicable way encountering the Word God as embodied in Jesus, ordinary people like Simon, Andrew, James, John and us are emboldened to do the impossible; to repent, to put down our old way of living, turn around and follow the way of Jesus.

And there we have it. It is not enough to pray for our nation and the world. It is not enough to write about a “more perfect Union” wherein justice, domestic tranquility, and the general welfare are secured. Like Simon and Andrew, James and John we must put feet on our words, on God’s Word, following the way of Jesus. 

How many times must Jesus cast his net before everyone one of us catches the euangelion, the apocalyptic good news of the grace of God available right here, right now for all people? What will it take for us to put feet on your words, to stand up and walk with Jesus and be the euangelion for all people? 

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Gospel text for Sunday 17 January 2021

John 1:43-51        Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Reflection       Long before becoming a priest while in training to be a spiritual director one of the faculty members, an Episcopal priest whom I shall call Sharon, told the story of her childhood religious experience. Her earliest memories were walking with her grandmother every morning to Roman Catholic mass, fastening a white lace doilie onto her curly black hair, holding her breath to keep the scent of incense inside,  knowing she loved Jesus and he loved her right back. I listened politely while rolling the eyes of my heart. 

Recounting my early religious experience went like this. I was four years young, sitting on the floor in the Presbyterian Church nursery, watching a lady assemble felt figures on a board. Glued to her every word, when the lady placed Jesus on the pointy tips of waves somewhere between a beach and a boat my pudgy hand popped up as my exclamation popped out, “He cannot walk on water. I know because my family goes to the beach.” Silence told me I did something wrong, a fact affirmed when the Sunday school teacher informed  my parents of my misdemeanor who punished me for being disrespectful. The following Sunday I was placed with older children and never spoke again. One thing I knew for sure, nothing good could come out of those stories about Jesus. 

Which brings us to the story of Jesus’ visit to Galilee. Philip’s immediate receptivity not only to follow Jesus but also to enlist Nathaneal to do likewise makes me think of Sharon’s unsuspicious acceptance of Jesus and her enthusiasm to bring me along. On the other hand, Nathaneal’s skeptical reaction to Philip’s invitation to follow Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” sounds more like my inclination to hesitate, question and resist following. It is the next exchange between Jesus and Nathaneal that turns me around. 

Immediately after Nathaneal lays down his hesitating hand,“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus sees Nathaneal. What Jesus ‘sees’ is more than Nathaneal’s skepticism. When Jesus says,  “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” he affirms Nathaneal’s hesitation, questioning and reluctance to follow and thereby creates an opportunity for Nathaneal to engage. Without judgment Jesus ‘sees’ Nathaneal exactly where he is, which in this teaching tale is represented by the fig tree.

There must have been a fig tree in God’s garden because Adam and Eve made the first fashion faux pas using its leaves. (Gen 3.7) The prophets Hosea (9.10) and Jeremiah (24) liken the people of God to figs on a fig tree. Micah, one of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew Testament, calls for a world at peace lead by a new king in the line of David. Describing this new world Micah uses the imagery of men sitting under their fig trees without fear. (Micah 4.4) 

So what is the writer of John’s gospel doing when he has Nathanael ask Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” and Jesus answers, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you?” I believe he is offering us a new page for our playbooks. Jesus shows us a non-defensive,  non-combative way to invite people who are skeptical or judgmental about our beliefs or our affiliations to engage with us. 

Imagine if like Jesus, instead of leaping to defend ourselves or our position when someone questions or  criticizes our social, political or religious perspective, what if we responded as does Jesus? “I see you, an Israelite, a Republican, Democrat, pacifist, activist, fundamentalist, progressive, centrist, I see you under your fig tree.  I affirm you wanting to be seen and counted. I see you as you are, seeking security, safety and esteem. ” Might ‘those people’ whom we have cast into the camp of other be willing to “come and see,” to engage with us and ‘see’ us too? 

We, the people, are not enemies. We are as figs on a sole fig tree in the garden of God. Figs in every stage of ripe and readiness, figs reaching through the rare tree’s roots for our livelihood, figs turning toward the sun for our affirmation. 

God inhabits every cell and every space of our being and loves us, anyway. This is the sure source of our safety, security and esteem even when we hesitate, question and resist. Come and see. 

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