What does it mean to be a saint

Jesus heals the blind manWhen it is revealed we shall be like him, we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. First reading, All Saints Sunday. Revelation 7:9-14

“These are the ones who survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Second reading for All Saints Sunday. I John 3:1-3

We can learn what professionalism and vocation is by looking at the NavyThe great question, “What does it mean to be pure, a saint?” When I was in the service, in the mid-70’s there was a great sailor, a great hospital corpsman and a great leader. When he saw you make a mistake he would confront you with it, and then say, “Welcome to the human race.” We would then work to clean up the mess. Mistakes do not make us less than human; they make us human.

The Ethics of the Fathers has two quotes: “When sitting in judgment, do not act as a counselor-at-law. When the litigants stand before you, consider them both guilty; when they leave your courtroom, accepted the judgment, regard them as equally righteous. Increasingly cross-examine the witnesses. Be careful with your words, lest they learn from you how to lie.”

Hasidic rabbiThe Hebrew word for “White,” in the second reading is the color, white. It also means, “Transparent.” Transparent people have nothing to hide. When we make a mistake and nobody sees us, we think we can hide what we did. Then we spend years worrying if people will find out. This is guilt. When we are harsh with those making mistakes, we cause them to hide those mistakes. Tough love teaches people to lie.

I talked with a conservative who asked why working class people make a big show of pointing to other people’s mistakes, then pat that person on the back, and go get a beer. My response was, “When they do this, it tells the person with the mistake, ‘we know your faults, and we like you.’ This allows people to be transparent.” When we are transparent, we are pure, white with the Lamb’s blood.

BradyWhen people come forward for judgment, we cross examine witnesses. We view both points of view as being faulted. We overturn every rock, find the truth, and show it to them. When they leave court, real or of public opinion, they are righteous, part of the community. We make like my  friend from 40 years ago. The idea is not to ridicule the guilty, though to an outsider it may appear as such. There is nothing to hide, and when there is nothing to hide, there is no guilt. The found-out feel like part of the community, parts of the grander family which is our nation.

courtesy Dor Smeltzer Beacon 3Another quirk of Aramaic is their word for, “Blood,” is related to the word for “Image.” We are transparent in the image of the Lamb. The Hebrew for “Lamb,” and for “Word,” is the same. “In the beginning was the Word,” and “In the beginning was the Lamb.” Community members acknowledge faults in each other; they build each other up. This is living in the image of the Lamb. This  allows others to be transparent, saints. They do the same for us, and this is a community of saints.

There is a reason Halloween comes before All Saints Day. During Halloween, we  become transparent by showing our wicked side. On All Saints, we show our merciful side, our saintly side. We show we are a community of imperfect people. This is being saints.

Forrest Gump, great ideas, or simple ones, and who do you trust

Forrest GumpThe movie, Forrest Gump has a great scene at the end of its “Long Run Scene.” Forrest has run for three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours. At the end of his life, according to Luke, Jesus has lived approximately 30 years, and if we follow John’s Gospel, he has preached 3 years, about two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours. For the Thursday for the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus mentions this in terms of days.

Myrtle point trackAt the end of Forrest Gump’s running of the good race 2 Timothy 4:7, he turns and a man takes the role of St. Peter, “Quiet! Quiet! He is going to say something.” They expect something for the ages. Forrest says, “I think I want to go home now.” In Matthew 17:22, at the end of his life, Jesus tells his apostles, “”The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” His grand words are, he is going home, “Are you ready, Peter, to take over.”

Red hens courtesy Examiner Cheryl HannaThe Forrest Gump movie adds the Arizona desert. Going to Jerusalem and almost certain death must have much like this for Jesus and his followers. At the end of our Gospel we read: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned. You will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the NAME.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the NAME.” alludes to the end of Psalm 118, which is the last Psalm of the Hallel, the Great Psalm recited at Passover. This Psalm gives us great advice for this coming election year, ““Better to take refuge in the NAME than to put one’s trust in mortals. Better to take refuge in the NAME than to put one’s trust in princes.” Psalm 146:3-4 continues this theme, “Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save. Who breathing his last, returns to the earth; that day all his planning comes to nothing.” Psalm 33:16-17 adds, “A king is not saved by a great army, nor a warrior delivered by great strength. Useless is the horse for safety; despite its great strength, it cannot be saved.”

Church TriumphantOur Gospel begins, “Go away, and leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.” The implication is that Jesus can save himself by trusting in the princes of another district. Jesus refers to Psalm 118. Trust in God first. “The NAME is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me?” Our first reading includes, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Kyrie”

The emphasis is trusting in God, not princes, again. The rabbinic leadership mistake of the first century, and of us, is wanting to trust leaders to give us grand words to give us grand direction. Jesus points to trusting in God first. There are no grand words, just, “I think I want to go home now.” Trust in God first. Then stand to fight the forces of violence in our world. Our Forrest Gump scene gives one other piece of advice, we will be running Against the Wind.

Healing the Blind Man Son Timaeus/Son of Value, or healing us? Does he heal us?

moonAs Jesus was leaving Jericho/the moon with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Many rebuked him, telling him ‘Shut up!’ He kept calling out, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

They called the blind man, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus replied, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:46-52

Jesus walks in a desolate place. Jericho, in Hebrew, literally means the moon. Bar Timaeus is Aramaic for, “Son of simplicity and innocence.” In Greek, it means, “Son of Value.” He calls to Bar David, or Son of the Beloved, which is to say, to the beloved Son of God.

The Latin Vulgate reads: 10: 49 Et stans Jesus praecepit illum vocari. Et vocant caecum dicentes ei : Animaequior esto : surge vocat te.” “Jesus stands/stops, and says, call him, literally, give him a vocation. They call/vocation the blind man and tell him, be favorably animate. Go, he calls you.”

Be a RippleAnother important word to understand in this passage is “Faith,” the Aramaic of which is Ameth. “A,” is the first letter of the Aramaic alphabet and stands for leadership. “M,” is the middle letter and stands for water, the tops of the “M,” stand for waves. The “T,” is the last letter and is in the shape of a cross. It stands for Jesus’ crucifixion, and for the end, of the alphabet and of time. The Alpha and the Omega is the Greek version of the Hebrew, “Ameth,” which is faith. The Aramaic word for “saved,” is “Jesus.” Faith also stands for the great mystery of the Christian faith, and of the great mysteries of our world.

HubbleSo, Jesus calls the Son of simplicity, or of value. This man calls to the Son of the Beloved, “I am a Son of Value.” He tells Jesus how he wants to see. Seeing involves a two-fold sense. There is the physical seeing, the seeing in general, the use of our eyes. Then there is the seeing of Ameth, the seeing of faith. This is the seeing of vocation, the seeing of our proper end, and the fourth of Aristotle’s causes.

Just as I amJesus tells the young man, “Your faith saves you.” The blind man sees with an eyesight not available to the crowd, the great mass of people of yesterday and today. He sees the great mystery of our world, the one the Great Breath/the Holy Spirit leads, and he sees the Holy Spirit leading it. Because of this, Jesus gives this “Blind Man” a vocation, passing on what he sees to others. If we are to follow the way of this blind man we must first throw aside our cloaks, the things blinding us to this inner world of faith. This is our wealth, our possessions. We must come to Jesus just as we are, without one plea. We must leave with a calling. Are we up to the task?

The Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time, or “Why Eighteen?”

LectionarySt. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, “From infancy you have known sacred writings, capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All of the writing is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in justice/charity; one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every noble work.” This implies every word in Torah is necessary.

The Reading for Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time has unnecessary detail. “Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.”  “Those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them.” Luke does not tell us how many Galileans died, and does not count the “Some people.”

Identical-Twins1Eighteen is an odd number to count, until we learn how in Jewish parlance Chai is a symbol that captures an important aspect of Judaism. The letters Het (ח) and Yud (י) add up to the number 18. The Het has a value of 8 and the yud has a value of 10. Eighteen is a popular number that represents life.” In verse 11, the crippled woman was in the synagogue for the same 18 years. There is something to this eighteen.

fig_tree21“Three,” stands for completeness in Jewish thought. Three plus One is a number cluster that signals the fulfillment of God’s plans (Amos 1; Daniel 7:25, Proverbs 6:16-19, 30:18-19). This detail is here to teach something. When the gardener in our story talks about waiting a year, he adds three years to one more year, to allow God the change to bring the plant/mankind, to completeness/health.

Donkey Jenny and foulIn this crippled woman’s healing, there is discussion about whether or not it is proper to take an animal and lead it out for watering. Talmud/Sabbath/128 explicitly allows this. Jesus then argues from Kal Vahomer, heavy and light,  humans are more important than animals. The important issue is life. Life is more important than the rules because the rules are about promoting life. This is the reason for eighteen being mentioned three times in this passage, and no place else in the Gospels, or New Testament.

Seder plate smallJewish liturgy for Passover has the four sons. One asks, “The wise child asks: What are the testimonies, customs, and precedents which Kyrie our God commanded us?” The foolish one asks, “The foolish child asks mah zot, what is all this? And you should: ‘teach him the laws of Passover.” The wicked child asks: ‘what is all this work to you?’ He says to you and not to him. He separates himself from the community. You should set her/his teeth on edge (hak’he et shinav) and tell him God did this for me when I went out of Egypt, for me and not for her/him. Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.”

It is with this that we read Jesus’ response about the crippled woman. “This daughter of Abraham…” She is coming to life. She is a member of the community. You are too strung out on the rules. In the process of trying to exclude the Galileans killed by Pilate, the eighteen killed by the tower, and this woman, the only people you really exclude are yourselves. This is why Jesus says, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” In essence, no, they did not suffer because of anything they did, but if you do not get your act straight, you are next.  Do not say, “They suffer because…” When we do, we only cut off ourselves. Choose life, choose being a member of a vibrant faith community.

Who is with me?

Be a RippleI remember once, when in college, of a debate between an atheist liberal and a conservative fundamentalist. They argued, “Can God create a rock so big he cannot pick it up?” “Can God kill himself?” “It is against his nature. Imagine something of which nothing greater can be imagined. To be so great, it must exist. Therefore God exists.” “It is against his nature, is an evasion.” No, it is not…” Each one yelled at the other, “You are wrong…” They were like little kids yelling, “Yes it is!” “No it is not.”

384309_549304955086309_357628736_nThen they brought up the pro-life debate. All the arguments for and against are so hot and so debated, it is not advisable to mention them here. Faces became red with anger as each used the same arguments that have been thrown back and forth since before you the reader or I the writer were born. Each person many times in this debate also used the argument, “You are wrong…” only to be met by, “No, you are wrong.”

Finally, after much jostling, the atheist liberal asked someone named Pam, a nice Jewish girl who hated debate, what her answer was. She retorted, “Pharaoh and his army he threw into the sea; the Babylonians tried to destroy us, and they are no longer around. Then came the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Inquisition, and the Nazis of a few generations ago. They are all gone now and we are still here.”

PovertyAs the liberal atheist stood there with his mouth open, Pam added, “I don’t know if God could create such a rock, or do such a thing, and I don’t know if I can think God into existence, but he is the biggest guy on the block and I am picking no fights with him.” The fundamentalist stood there angry, being upstaged in this way.

The Great Catholic, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
The Great Catholic, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Pam pointed to the fundamentalist and stated, “Your God is too small. Our God is no intellectual abstraction. He is far grander than that. He is far too large for words.”

Pam gently added, “The problem with each of you is that if God is transcendent, he transcends logic; if he transcends logic, he transcends what we can say about him, including whether or not he exists. You use the wrong tool for the job. When you use words to describe the indescribable, you end up saying gibberish. You end up with meaningless mind games proving nothing, with self-contradictory, meaningless sentences. You both speak with your heads, not your hearts. If you looked into your hearts, you would have your answers. God both transcends everything, but is also in transcendentally imminent. If God is everywhere, he is imminent, for us to see him, now.”

The fundamentalist argued, “You are a Pantheist.” Pam retorted, “Not Pantheist, but Pan in Theist. I am not God and you are not God, but God is in each of us, guiding us, if we will but listen. If God is in everything, nothing is evil. Everything is a mix, good with evil. The world is good, though never perfect, at least in this cosmological time. You use your heads and not your hearts or your eyes. This means neither one of you experiences him.”

The atheist argued, “And what are you doing as you describe God this way?” Pam stated, “The difference between those of us who have experienced God and those who have not is that we describe our religious experience. We do not describe God. Instead, rather we describe our experience of him. We speak stories and poetry to describe an experience, not the person experienced. ”

Both fundamentalist and atheist shot back, “You are wrong.” Pam gently continued as she addressed her comments to the atheist, “There is only one proof for the existence of God, and that is when he comes down and touches you on the shoulder and says, “Hi!” One place he does this is curing Passover liturgy, when we commemorate our liberation from Egypt. For those, such as myself, whom he has touched, there is no room for doubt. For those of you he has not touched, no proof is sufficient. There is always an alternative explanation for our religious experience.”

Lion and lambThe atheist argued, “You have that last part right.”

Pam retorted, “You argue for the rights of the mother in the abortion case, and you are right in arguing this way. As Jews, we follow Deuteronomy 30 where it commands, “Choose life.” In our language, the verb is in the perfect case. This means it is completed action. Each time we see a person we choose life for that person. All life is life in potentiality and our job as Jews is to bring that life to its fullest potentiality. You fulfill this commandment when you argue for the fullness of life for the mother in relation to childbirth. You also do so for her spouse, arguing for a just wage, and physical, mental, emotional, and spiritually healthy working conditions.  You do the same in your love for animals, for quality education, and for care of the planet.”

The fundamentalist argued, “You are throwing us under the bus. The fetus is not potential life; it is life.” Pam continued as she looked at the atheist, “You argue that the fetus is only potential life. For the sake of argument, let us say you are correct. The fetus is only potential life, but as Jews we are still commanded to bring all potential life to its fruition. God still commands us to choose life.”

Seder plate smallThe atheist retorted, “You do not argue as fundamentalists do. Your arguments are reasoned, and show thoughts of being thought out. What is your solution?” Pam replied, “You are way ahead of yourself. Deuteronomy argues, the truth is not in our heads, and it is not out there for science to research and find. It is in our hearts. If we strip away all the concepts and simply look into our hearts, look at those dead baby pictures, and if our fundamentalist friend would just look at pictures of those in poverty, and drop the excuses, ‘But they did this, or will do that,’ and just look, we will find our answer.”

The atheist argued, “You are saying I have the Spirit of God within me, so should convert to your religion?” Pam gently replied, “No, that would be off topic. I simply argue that your eyes and ears pull at your emotions, telling you the picture is that of someone. I argue, the person pulling the strings is God, but as I said earlier, their are other interpretations. I simply argue that you listen to your heart.”

Pam continued, “The answer of when life begins is in your heart, and that is why you are offended by those pictures, and your fundamentalist friend who is offended by pictures of people in poverty. You are really so much alike you cannot stand each other.”

The fundamentalist blurted, “So you are religious and you are against capital punishment?” Pam stated, “If you look far enough behind the rough mask of the scrub cattle, the rough people who did really stupid things, you will find, first, a scared little kid trying to find his way. If you look even further, you will find the image of God.” The fundamentalist, thinking he could destroy this Jew, added, “So you would let him out on the street to do it again?” Pam shot back, “That would deny the image of God in himself, and in all his victims, past, present, and future. If he is a threat to himself and others, if he cannot restrain himself, we need to restrain him. God only asks that we see the humanity, the image of God in him as we do it.”

The fundamentalist blurted, “So, what is your answer!” Pam finished, “It is an act of hubris to come up with that answer. That is for God working through us as a community to answer. I challenge you, not to accept my answer; I do not have one, but to come with me, in love, as we look for the answer, ‘how do we create true life for everyone? Who all is with me?

Concerning the Second Sunday of Advent

Our prayerThis is my prayer: That your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of charity/justice that comes through Jesus Christ for the importance and praise of God.

Scripture has four meanings: Literal: What the passage says about past events; Allegorical: What the passage can tell us about something else; Moral: What the passage can teach us about how to live; and Anagogical: What the passage tells us about our end.

010During the Second Sunday of Advent, we find an allegorical understanding of Torah. “Jerusalem, look to the east. See your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Dedicated One, rejoicing that God remembered them… God commanded every lofty mountain become low, and the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground… The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command. Baruch 5:1-9

The literal meaning refers to the Exodus from Babylon to Israel. God will level the mountains and use the crushed rock to fill in the valleys, so the people can walk on a level plain. Baruch uses this image in allegory. The people have returned and things are the same as they were before. The rich are the lofty mountains and the age-old depths and gorges are the poor.

In the Shadow fo the lights of Reno...John cries in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of Kyrie, and make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill made low. The winding roads become straight, and the rough ways made smooth. All flesh shall see the salvation/Jesus of God.”

“Make your ways straight.” Do no crooked things. Have no great disparities of income as in our nation today. Either we clean up this mess, or God will do it for us, and we will not like it if God does it for us. This is true religion. Fill every valley. Make sure all have enough food to eat, clothing to wear, shelter to keep warm, dry and safe, adequate healthcare, and transportation to where ever they have to be. Help those who have taken the wrong path; bringing them back to the right one. Help the rough, the vulgar/mean people, the scrub cattle of the world become smooth, friendly people again, as they were as children. Remember, all flesh will see Jesus, salvation, not just members from our group, and not just humans. All flesh will see God’s salvation.

Some point to the king’s sword as our solution. The Shema, Jesus’ Great Commandment is, “Here Israel, the NAME is Almighty, the NAME is One. Love God with all our hearts, all our animate being, and with all of our measure.” How do we love God? How do we love someone who already literally already has everything? We guard and keep what is his, in particular what is made in his image. That is each other, friend and foe. Any attack on any living person, no matter how deserving, and no matter how defended, is an attack upon the image of God in that person.

Great scholars like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Locke have discussed Justice, giving us an idea of what This is my prayer; that love increase knowledge, the knowledge of those who are valleys, their suffering and pain, perceive them as people, God’s creation, having value. This will make us pure and blameless for the day of Christ. No more excuses; we use everything at our disposal, church, state, civic organization, and most importantly, our own eyes and ears, hands and feet. Remember, the poor only request we show them how God remembers them, now, today. We can only do that by seeing them in their suffering, listening to them, and then doing something. If we don’t do it, God will and…

Are we the early or the late fig?

fig_tree21Mark 11, Jesus Triumphal Entry, begins, “They drew near to Jerusalem, to Beth phage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives.” “The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf…” Beth phage is Aramaic for, “House of Figs.” The story begins and ends with figs,and Bethany, “the House of Poverty.”

figHebrew has two terms for fig. “Te’enah” is the common term for “fig”; denoting the figs, ripening in August and forming the largest crop. The early figs, appearing in March or April and ripening in June, are “bikkurah.” “The early fig was a great delicacy by the Hebrews.” Jesus comes hoping for the later, bikkurah figs, and finds the Te’enah in its place.”

The region around the Mount of Olives looks much like the low mountains near Reno Nevada. Notice the tombs on the mount.

Mark prefigures Jesus’ death. As Jesus approaches the scene, he sees the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem’s main burial ground.

Another play on words, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches they had cut from the fields.” “Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. Reaching it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for the common figs.” Jesus comes looking for the delicious fruit of the people loving God and expressing itself through peace between man and man. He finds people covering up in fig leaves as we do in corporate America today, doing whatever it takes to keep one’s job and grow in the company. The reward  of being bikkurah is poverty but also the kingdom to come. The reward of Te’enah is great wealth.

Jesus is not interested in empty public fanfare; these people will not be present on Good Friday. He wants the fruitful. Our choices are clear, leafy/showy and fruitless, men ready for war with Rome, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, gallant all, or men of peace, pursing the fruit of peace for all men. Which do we choose?

Waiting for mom and dad to come home, or the second coming

children looking out the windowLuke 12: 42-48 has much in common with the Gospel for this First Sunday of Advent. It also reminds me of growing up in the mid-sixties. There was a year when everyone except dad moved to Pittsburgh. Dad was not able to leave his job in Fairless Hills, near Philadelphia, so mother moved with the kids to her old home town of Vandergrift. We now lived 320 miles from dad. One Friday evening mom was late getting home from her job. Dad was scheduled to drive up from Fairless Hills.

Being the leader, I decided the house must look immaculate when dad arrived, so I pushed my three siblings to the breaking point, getting the house ready. I of course had the hardest job, so felt free to help myself to dad’s beer, chips and the like. I even had friends over to help drink, and push my siblings around. As evening became later, my friends and I got drunk. As we passed out, my siblings trashed the house. They looked out the window, gawking at every car going by, trying to listen for the sounds of dad’s American Rambler as it came down the road.

One ugly kid 2Luke 12 ends, “That servant knowing his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will… shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

“Beware your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life. That day catch you by surprise like a trap and assault everyone. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the imminent tribulations and stand before the Son of Man.”

Adam and EveMy mistake was the same as Eve’s in Genesis 3. Eve answers the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden… God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it…” Genesis 2 states, “The NAME, God ordered Adam, ‘You are free to eat from the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of the satisfying and the rotten. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it…”

The address is to Adam only, not Eve. God tells Adam not to eat of it. When Eve speaks to the snake, she adds to the command. Eve is not guilty of rebellion, but over-piety. I was not guilty of rebellion against our parents, but of being overly scrupulous, at the expense of others.

Adam and Eve

We learn a couple of important lessons from these readings. The first is that it is OK to look out that window, hoping each passing car is Our Father coming from heaven in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a way of showing our adoration of The Father. God likes that, so long as we are aware there are ten thousand cars that look and sound just like ours in the night. About the younger siblings, many today are like them, looking to Revelation for the sound of that car and the look of those headlights.God will be happy to find his children eager to see him

God calls us to balancing our piety and industry with love of others. That day comes against all, so we must be mindful of others’ suffering. God will be far happier to find his children happily doing their share to keep the house in order. This includes making all happy.Remember, God looks forward to seeing his children in the window, looking for his second coming, but he also wants his house, our planet ready for his arrival.

Leadership is a curse, not a blessing. In Book 19 of The City of God, Augustine tells us to take take leadership positions with angst and what Kierkegaard called dread. The higher we are up the food chain, the more God requires of us.

Of warhorses, donkeys and Jesus’ Triumphal ‎entry

Donkey Jenny and foulHow many of you readers have ever heard of a war donkey? One site on the topic wrote, “When a donkey senses danger, his reaction is to freeze in place and assess the situation. In most cases, he will not move a step until he figures out the safest action. His habit of stopping and thinking, rather than running, is one of his survival means. This is what makes a donkey a trustworthy mount, especially on precarious trails. A tumbling rock or skittering snake makes him stop and think. The warhorse will bolt. ‘Better an ass rode than from a horse thrown.”

Most accuse the donkey of being stupid. This is because the donkey comes to different conclusions than people do. The donkey does not know the importance behind yellow stones. How many humans have died fighting over yellow stones. How many more have died charging into a nest of rattle snakes chasing yellow stones, not even there? Are people really stupid because they do not think the same as we do? Numbers 22:22-40 has the story of Balaam’s talking donkey. After Balaam beats his donkey three times he learns the donkey was right, not him. Is it wrong to learn from those we think are stupid? Sometimes they are the smart ones.

Both donkey’s and horses are peaceful animals. The difference is that the horse will charge when commanded. The donkey will say, “No thanks! They have spears and stuff over there. You can go if you want, but I think I will sit this one out.” The horse, blindly follows the herd and has no ethics of its own. The donkey thinks. The donkey therefore makes a terrible war animal.

Mark’s Triumphal Entry account has, “Some of the bystanders told them, “What are you doing, freeing the colt…?” They permitted them to do it.” They allowed the disciples to free the colt, and allowed the colt to be a colt, fulfill Zechariah’s words, “Behold: your king comes to you, a just savior. He comes humble and riding on a donkey, the son of an ass.” Zechariah 9:9

War horseVerse 10 continues, “He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow he will banish, and proclaim peace to the nations.” Jesus is not the proud warhorse, and does not ride one. He rides the humble donkey.

war donkeyJesus chooses a donkey. He does not choose the proud warhorse, really just a creature following the herd, even to death. When a donkey senses danger, the first thing it does is think. It refuses to move until it is sure if there is danger, where it is, and how to avoid it. The donkey is therefore the animal of peace. If you want to get into the kingdom, you will be a person who thinks for yourself, and not follow the crowd. You will also be a person of peace. Do you want to be a person Jesus wants to choose? Do you want glory now, or glory later?

The wolf of Gubbio, the prodigal son, and the conservative debate

Timber WolfThere was once a village in Gubbio, Italy, where there lived a young boy. A fine boy he was, caring for everyone and everything. He was particularly fond of puppies, as most young boys are, and took great care of all the puppies as he found them in the village. Growing older, he went so far as to go outside of the village looking for animals to care for. On one day, he found what appeared to be a cave, a den really, for wolves. He entered the den and found puppies. Immediately, he started to treat them with great care. Shortly after, the mother wolf entered her den, found the stranger, and ate him.

One ugly kid 2This is the eulogy for the young boy, a fine eulogy as eulogies go. The story is not about the wolf, but the wolf is central to understanding the story, or at least its end. Today, there was a meeting with a conservative who heard of a recent article about the prodigal son.This is a reading which is not read this liturgical year, but is important enough, it is read four times next year; 27 February, Saturday, for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 6, for the Forth Sunday of Lent, and September 11, for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time.

That article correctly argued how the Semitic definition of property was central to the story. The conservative argued, “But the prodigal son is not about the definition of property.” It is about something far grander. Still, the Semitic definition of property is central to the story. The prodigal son is a type, to use first century rhetorical jargon.

The interesting thing about this debate is how the conservative argued how discussing the definition of property assumed in the passage is not pertinent because it is not what the story is about, but he then argued, penance is central to the story, which it is, but it also is not what the story is about. The story is about familial love that transcends penance, and whatever we may have done in the past, or may do in the future.

The younger son tells his father, “Father, give to me the measure thrown upon the essence of me. He gave to them the life.” The son then squanders his share of what was to his father. The conservative argued, “But the father did not give his sons everything…” To this, verse 31 of Luke 15 argues, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” The father has nothing left. The father divided what was his, way back in Luke 15:12. If this is the case, by what right does the father give his younger son the robe, the ring, and the fattened calf of verse 22-3?

ParalyticThe conservative argued, “The point of the story is about forgiveness.” “Forgive,” does not appear in any form in the passage. All three stories in Luke 15 discuss the return of deviants, but the emphasis is upon the joy of their return, not their penance.

The son argues in verse 17-19, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”

Sounds like a request for forgiveness, until we catch that first part. The son states, “I will tell him.” It is not necessarily true in his mind, but only what he will tell him. He is more driven by hunger, a request for food, than by faith, family, or an earnest desire for forgiveness. The father never hears this request. While the son babbles his spiel, the father is too busy running. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” The father is not interested in forgiveness, or an apology, only his son.

Black AngusThen comes the robe, the ring, the fattened calf, and the party.  Followed by, “This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.” There is nothing here about his son coming to his senses, or asking for forgiveness, or receiving it. There is only, “My lost son is found.” He later tells his older son the same thing. “He was lost; now he is found.” All that matters is that the prodigal son has returned.

Hebrew has an interesting pun on the word, “Love.” “Abba” means “Father.” Ha Bah,” means the bleating of sheep, or the one who is to come, or the welcoming in of another. “A Ha Bah,” is love. Love is listening to the Father, and welcoming the other into our hearts and our homes. The story is about this. The story is about familial love which looks past, past faults, and sees only family, and the potential that comes from being family. The prodigal son is a type.

The sheep of his flockLuke 7:44, the deviant woman, was also brought up. She is another type, to use Greek rhetorical jargon. The conservative also argued when presented that if we truly look at the deviant, we will see his humanity and act, “But sometimes we are repulsed by evil.” There was only pointing to Genesis 1:27; Mankind is made in God’s image. He also has original sin. St. Augustine argued that evil is the absence of the good. Therefore, pure evil is non-existence, the absence of the good.

To look truly at a human being is to see the image of God in that person, and therefore his potential. The only force repulsed by the image of God in a person is Satan, the great accuser. If we truly look for God’s image in a person, we will find it, and we will act. If we act long enough and hard enough, maybe this will bring the image of God to the fore. This is what the father in our story does, and this is what God calls us to do.

In the conservative rendition of the story, there is no after to the story. Either the “Good Boy,” pouts outside the tent, or he joins the party. Which one? We are left guessing for rhetorical purpose. We are the older son. It is for us to answer.

What happens when the party is over, the sun sets and rises again in the morning? The story is addressed to the Pharisees, and the Pharisee in each of us. The story is for our nation today. What of the poor among us? The prodigal son is a type, a type for all the poor living among us. In the debate it was argued that the elder son had no way of knowing how his younger brother spent his money. The older son among us argues, “The poor among us are that way because…” Therefore, they are less than us, and deserve less than us, which is exactly what they have. All is right with the world.  So the conservative thinks, then and now.

In Reno Nevada we look for a solution to government mandated healthcare. The middle class and the wealthy among us do not know how the poor got to be that way. The point of the story is that it does not matter. All that matters is that we see God’s image in our brother. We are nation, a people born together by common heritage, if not by blood or place of birth. If any is hungry, we all hunger.

There must be an after the story. What of our poor? They do not get another share of the birthright, but…what of them? The story gives no after. That is for us to decide. In the morning, after the beer wears off, and the party is over, we must sit down with our young deviant and decide where his life goes from here. Torah speaks of Jacob and his travels to Haran to meet what were to become his two wives. Genesis 29. He arrives with nothing, and sits with a con artist like himself. At the end, he has two wives and great wealth. Likewise, in our story in Luke 15, our deviant sits down with us, and we help him work his way back to wealth, or at least his place in the community.

Now, we must make sure our brother has adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and transportation. The younger brother argues, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”  Today, that is still his wish, the wish of all the poor, to earn a reasonable day’s bread for a reasonable day’s work.  Let us bring it to fruition.