Lectionary Reflection: Lent 3

Is 55:1-9; Ps 63:1-8; Luke 13:1-9; I Cor 10:1-13

“My ways,” the Lord says, “are not your ways.” Indeed, they are not. Jesus finds himself confronted with horrendous evils, “evils the experience of which,” as Marilyn Adams puts it, “threaten to make us doubt our lives are worth living.” The Romans have slaughtered some Jews, even as they were worshiping the One whose promises, amidst the occupation, are so hard to believe. A tower, without warning and apparently at random, has fallen in Jerusalem, ending suddenly the lives of eighteen women and men who never would have guessed as they went about their lives, work and play, that this day would be their last. Evil – moral and natural – cries out for explanation. And the temptation, then and now, in the face of such suffering is to diagnose, to try to read off tragedy’s inscrutable, relentless face just what exactly it is that God is doing in letting it come to pass. Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Lent 2

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

This week’s Gospel reading presents the memorable scene of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. In Mathew this scene takes place inside the city, between Jesus’ entry and his Passion. In Luke, however, it takes place outside the city, just before Jesus enters. What might Luke be trying to suggest?

Käthe Kollwitz, "Die Klage" (Lament), 1938-1940, Bronze © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005

Gillian Rose reminds us that some of art’s most searing depictions of grief and mourning take place outside city walls: Antigone buries her brother outside the palace gates of Athens, Phocion’s wife gathers the ashes of her husband outside of Megara. In both of these cases, such acts of mourning were forbidden. Antigone’s brother fought on the wrong side of Thebes’ civil war and his body was left for prey, while Phocion was accused of treachery and executed, his remains burned and scattered. Mourning in such settings can be seen as many things: a sign of loyalty to family, fidelity to the gods, or resistance to unjust laws. Regardless, there is a sense that such acts of grief are more than acts of private affection; they restore rights, redeem honor, re-establish order.  In other words, they are public acts. They are acts of justice. They are offered as much for the city as they are for their loved ones. Continue reading

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If you’re considering a master degree in theology or religious studies, consider the Loyola MTS. Join us for a google hangout this coming Wednesday at 7:30 for a chance to hear about what makes our program unique among the variety of graduate degrees in theology that are out there. Get your questions answered and hear from current MTS students.

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Lectionary Reflection: Lent 1, Luke 4:1-13

Many people are familiar with Goethe’s famous play Faust. As the play unfolds, Doctor Faustus makes a pact with the Devil, who agrees to serve him with knowledge, youth, love, wealth, and magical power. At the end of this pact, however, his soul is to be carried off by Satan. While Faust has been performed on stage in plays and operas, the question still remains: did he repent of his sins or face the devil’s deadline by being condemned? Although many writers and composers portray the latter, some Christian artists feel that this was a struggle in which ultimately the Spirit of God overcame evil. Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Ash Wednesday

Readings: Joel 2.1-2, 12 – 17 (or Isaiah 58.1-12), Psalm 51.1-17; 2 Corinthians 5.20-6.10; Matthew 6.1 – 6, 16 – 21.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent.  One meaning of “lent” in Latin is “spring”, but the Church’s Lent turns the usual clichés about spring emerging from the dark of winter on their head: Lent is a time of repentance, beginning with the priest or minister marking us with ashes in the sign of the cross.  Just when we thought we were slowly but happily emerging from dark winter days, a vicious flu season, and even football, we are asked to repent.  In some ways, the timing could not be worse.   Continue reading

Lectionary Reflection: Transfiguration

In the account of Jesus’ “transfiguration,” we are told that the “appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29).  While one might wonder about the significance of this is, the comments that come after shed some light, so to speak. “And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30-31, NRSV).  The reader is then told that when Peter, James and John awoke “they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”  Clearly, then, the significance of Jesus’ altered countenance and dazzling white raiment is that he—along with Moses and Elijah— appear “in glory,”  although only of Jesus is it said to be his glory.

In the Old Testament, God’s glory is used to designate the manifestation of God’s “God-ness” to humans:  Moses doesn’t see God but God’s glory.  Continue reading

January 20 Lectionary Reflection: Epiphany/Ordinary 2 (Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; John 2:1-11)

This weekend our nation gears up for two grand events: the inauguration of a president, and the remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Preparations are being made for elaborate dinners and good wine and heartfelt speeches.

In John chapter 2, Jesus does something very human, very prosaic, very neighborly: he goes to a party. A wedding party, to be precise. If you’ve ever been to a Middle Eastern wedding, you know that they are lavish affairs, often with hundreds of guests. The wedding Jesus went to probably involved an elaborate dinner and at least one or two heartfelt speeches, and we know that it eventually included some very good wine.

We learn right away that Jesus’ mother has been invited to the wedding, too. And we get to witness a faintly humorous exchange between the Son of God and his mother Mary. In verse 4, the mother of Jesus informs him that the wine is gone (clearly expecting him to do something about it), and Jesus says “So what?” (I’m paraphrasing here). In verse 5, his mother says to the servants: “Do whatever he says.” I’d love to know what happens in the tiny white space between the end of verse 4 and the start of verse 5. There’s no break, no transition, not even an “and” or a “but.” What happened in-between verse 4 and verse 5? Did Mary raise her eyebrows? Did she put her hands on her hips? Was Jesus’ question light-hearted, and did he grin afterward and wait expectantly to see what his mother would do? Did either of them smile, sharing for just a moment the knowledge they had that was hidden to everyone else?

As soon as Mary hands the matter off to the servants, Jesus doesn’t argue about it anymore. And just as Mary requests, they do precisely what Jesus tells them to do. Fill the jars! he says. And they fill them. Up to the brim, just to be thorough. Bring them to the chief steward! he says. And they bring them to the chief steward.

The chief steward is so astounded by the water-become-wine that he confronts the bridegroom, pointing out that most people serve the good stuff first and save the cheap wine for later, when the guests have had a bit too much to know the difference, but that this host has saved the best for the end. It’s hard to tell if this is a reproach, subtle advice for next time, praise, or simply an expression of surprise.

What it tells the reader, however, is that God’s delightful abundance has just overflowed through Jesus and blessed this wedding with goodness. Six large stone jars – that is a lot of wine. As the psalmist sings, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8).

John reports that this act is the first of the “signs” that Jesus does. Turning water into wine, walking on water: we might think of these acts as miracles, as the divine bending or creative reinterpretation of the laws of nature, but John insists that they are signs that point beyond themselves. Signs that call forth belief in Jesus (John 2:11; cf. John 2:23). Signs that reveal the glory of Jesus. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was a symbol of God’s powerful presence with the people (Exod 24:15-18; 34:29-35; 40:34-38) – a presence so overwhelming that nobody could look it in the face and live (Exod 33:12-23).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ glory blazes forth for all the world to see at his crucifixion and in his resurrection (John 17:1-5). At a wedding in a small town in Galilee, an unsuspecting group of wedding guests sees a glimpse of Jesus’ glory: his true identity as the light of the world.

Let’s go back to the very start of the story, just for a moment. John notes that Jesus went to this particular wedding on the third day. It’s a small detail, but now it sparkles with potential meaning. At the heart of Christian conviction is the declaration that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:7; 1 Cor 15:4; cf. John 2:19).

“On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding.” Hear those words again in an entirely new way, in the light of the resurrection, in the splendid light of Jesus’ glory. See a glimpse of the wedding of heaven and earth, the wedding banquet at which all the nations sit. On the third day, Jesus arose and went to a wedding, where he prepares the feast for us.

Lectionary Reflection: Zeph 3:14-20; Is 12:2-6; Philpns 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

“You brood of vipers” – nobody’s Christmas card conveys that message. And yet everyone’s does. John’s indictment echoes God’s appraisal of his people – all people. It’s a judgment Jesus would share: “If you, though you are evil…” Our text reminds: there is need for peace on earth and in our souls because we have sown war. God draws near not only out of his own overflowing love but our radical need. And his coming takes the fleshly shape it does because from our hearts of stone God would raise true children of Abraham. It is a baptism of the Holy Spirit, a circumcision of the heart, that is required, for the fruit of our repentance is, time and again, rotten. He whom John proclaims will bear the fruit we could not, not extorting but emptying himself of riches for our sakes, not bearing false witness but enduring it, not seeking his due but becoming servant of all, sharing his clothes with all us naked; his body with all us hungry.

This, Luke and the prophets tell us, is good news. It is good news. Brood of vipers, we may be, but we have not been abandoned to our own grasping, evil devices, God has come, in our midst. Lifted up, bearing our wretched, serpentine form and the cost of our empty penitence, for this he came into the world. By this we might bear new fruit from our new hearts. Our fortunes restored – and more – before our eyes and the eyes of a doubtful world.