Thomas, who is his twin?


Jess theses statement in Luke“These are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” John  20:31

So, why should we believe John? His gospel differs from that of the others in more ways than they agree. All of their words are the words of itinerant fishermen who at least in theory had limited education and an ax to grind with the establishment of their day. The establishment, if we believe the story, killed their leader and then the body ended up missing while in their care.

The answer lies in the story of Thomas, which John just related. Thomas in Aramaic is תאומא, and it means a twin. It’s root is תמ which means the perfection of simplicity. When Marcus Jastrow defines the term, he states it relates to twins who are so close that when one twin feels pain, so does the other. When one feels joy, so does the other. We believe John because we are already members of the community and want to believe, sometimes in spite of the evidence. John lived at a time that was rough for Christians, and so do we. We constantly fight those who worship Mercury, Mars, and Moneta Juno, and some of those claim to be Christian.

Who is Thomas’ twin? It is each of us. Hebrew does not have a past or a future tense. Everything is in the present. The event may be in the past, but the recollection of it is in the present. As we read the gospel, if we read it well, we relive the events in the present. When Thomas Puts his finger into his hands, feels and sees, when he brings his hand and puts it into Jesus’ side, we put our fingers into his hands and into his side. We do this in our participation in the Mass.

As we read earlier in the Gospel, “Mary of Magdala said this turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus told her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus told her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen Kyrie,” and what he told her.

When John writes this, he seems to have the story of Ruth in mind, “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Where you die I will die, and there be buried. May the NAME do thus to me, and more, if even death separates me from you!”

Why should we believe John? Because the Gospel is not written to non-Christians. It is not written to non-believing Greeks or non-believing Jews. It is written to those who are members of the community already. The appeal is not to become a Christian. The appeal is to follow Ruth’s example. It is to go where Jesus goes. It is to be homeless. Hebrew has two words for lodging. Shekan means to dwell and implies some permanence.  The Hebrew word used in Ruth implies living with no permanent place. Then comes the big demand, “Your people will be my people, your God will be my God. It is an appeal to the community to be just that, a community that cleaves to each other, is one with each other.

Jesus tells Mary not to cleave to him like he is some fuzzy white thing out there. Cleave to the community. Don’t take your bibles to town son, leave your bibles at home. Don’t take your bibles to town. Mary Magdala does not go to the apostles with a great book with proof texts. She goes with what she saw and heard. Likewise, Jesus does not send us out into the world with a proof text. He sends us out into the world with saw we saw and heard, how meeting him in the Mass and in our lives affected us. John does not give us a proof text. He calls us to be twins of Thomas, feeling what he felt, seeing what he saw, hearing what he heard, smelling what he smelled, tasting what he tasted, and so forth.

The one warning is that to do this, we must hear, see, taste, touch, smell, and feel. This required intentionality. This means coming to Mass early and leaving late. It means spending time with the statues and the Stations of the Cross and putting our mind into all that is happing. It means letting the Mas bring us to Thomas, so he can bring us to Jesus.

Don’t Take your Bible to Town Son; Leave Your Bible at Home, and then Go Evangelism


Jess theses statement in LukeThis Lent started with the story of the Samaritan women, which ends with:

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and told the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” They went out of the town and came to him.

Then the angel replied to the women, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead. He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” They went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.

There is something missing here and it is important. Jesus sees a Samaritan woman and in the entire passage Torah, Navy, and Writings are never mentioned. Both of these passages are about evangelizing. Jesus talks with the woman knowing she has had five husbands and is now on number six. He has already had a lengthy conversation with her. This is important. She thinks she is hiding her faults. She drives the conversation, not Jesus. By engaging in this conversation and let her drive it, Jesus tells her she is in God’s image and well worth talking to. He establishes rapport. Only after she brings up the adultery does he say, in essence, “I already know about that.” He does not focus on the fault. She already gets enough of that from the proper people of her day.  She does not need it from Jesus, or from us, in her time, or ours.

LectionaryThe woman goes back to the Samaritans and says, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.” She does not seem to have a Bible either.

Now, both passages are about evangelizing. For the First Sunday of Easter, Jesus tells the two women to evangelize to the disciples. Do not use books. Tell people what you saw. He tells us the same. “Go evangelize! Don’t take your bibles to town son; leave your bibles at home! Don’t take your bible to town.” Do as St. Francis said, “Go out and evangelize, and if necessary, use words.”

Show them the tomb of your life. If your life was not a tomb, in both Jewish and Christian traditions, you have a problem. God, through Moses, rescues idol-worshiping slaves in the land of Oppression, which is that the Hebrew word for Egypt means. Their life was a tomb. God rescues them. Again, they did not have a book yet.

הר הזיתיםThe Bible is not a law book. Torah properly means instruction, but it comes in three parts. By far the largest part is Haggadah, Hebrew for “Story,” not “Law.” “Halacha” means, “walk,” not law. Think of the forty-year walk of people who generally lived forty years. It is the walk-of-life. It is guidance on how to live, where “live” means more than basic subsistence, but about getting everyone in the tribe to the land of milk and honey, to the final cause, who is God. The closest word Hebrew has to law is “Cook.” That means “Precedent”, not “law” as we understand the term but the interpretation of Torah.

Many argue that Torah is perfect. Historians repeatedly report how the book contradicts itself and is not an accurate reflection of history. It is an accurate reflection of how four rabbinic schools interpreted history. In that sense, it is perfect. It perfectly reports how people saw history.Seder plate small

When we leave Mass on Easter Sunday, Jesus will tell us the same as he told the women at the tomb. Tell history, his story, your story, like the Samaritan woman, does, telling people how Jesus affects your life. Go out telling people how you saw Jesus in the readings and the Physical Presence of the Eucharist.

Hebrew has another important concept, Kavanagh. That means intention. The Samaritan woman drives the conversation, not Jesus. The women come to the tomb. He does not come to them.

“That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. It happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them”

If we want to see the Physical Presence, which is here regardless, we must engage with what we are hearing, hear and with people out in the street. When we do, Jesus will draw near to us. If we are better than the Samaritan women is, the women at the tomb, the people on Neal Road or Montello Avenue in Reno, or Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA, or Broad Street in Philadelphia, Congress Heights in D.C., we will not engage with them. If we do not engage with them, we will not find Jesus, period. Our priest shortage will continue because we do not look for them, period. They are still in the tomb of Egypt, and so are we.

The Seraph in the desert points to death which leads to life and the crucifix points to death which leads to life.
Do we see the Physical Presence, our rescue in the Eucharist, or are we in real trouble?

Tell people why you are here. Is it because you see something happening here? Your rescue from oppression? Do you see the Physical Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?  Does Jesus play a role in your life? Tell them that.

That is what the Samaritan woman does. That is what the women who go to the tomb do. If you come to the afternoon Mass, you will find that is what the men who go to the battlefield of Emmaus do. They see something and come reporting what they saw to the disciples, no great insights, only what they saw. This converts the world.

REFLECTIONS FOR PALM SUNDAY 2017


Jess theses statement in LukeWhen Ben Adam comes in his importance, and all the messengers with him, he will sit upon his weighty throne. All the nations* will be assembled before him. He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The chief messenger will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ The Tsaddik will answer him, ‘Kyrie, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ The chief messenger will reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me…

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus…, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me… The next line is in our Passion account. As we do to our neighbor, we participate in Passover, the Passion. We see this in several key scenes.

Barabba and BarabbasThe first story is the story of Barabbas. Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus Son of the Father.” In Hebrew, Barabbas means Son of the Father. “Who do you want me to release to you, Jesus, Son of the Father, or Jesus, Son of the Father?” The two men have the same name and title. There is a difference. One wants to overthrow the Romans through peace and love, non-violence. The other chooses violence.

Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” The Cohenim Hagedol, with the grammarians and Presbyterians, mocked him said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

We hear the words, “He chose to be there. It is his fault. We disown the event. This has echoes of Exodus 1:10. Come; let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase.” How Pharaoh deals shrewdly, Exodus does not say, but it implies in the first verses of the passage where Exodus shows how the Hebrews chose to come to the land of Egypt. We are again presented with the idea that the other guys choices rationalize anything we might do to them.

parting of the red seaWe forget Exodus chapters 13-14, where God gives Pharaoh swimming lessons. We forget the beginning of our Passion story, Matthew 25:31-46. This passage addresses the nations, our nation included. How we as a nation treat the least of us is how we participate in the Passion.

God remembers our indiscretion if we voted for those who choose to cut funding for the poor. In the end, God hears the cry of the poor, and he recognizes in it his own cries on the cross.

The trial of Jesus gives us two lessons. First, Jesus says, “From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven…’” What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the slander; what is your opinion?” They reply, “He deserves to die!”

They do not say he is guilty as charged. These people are overly scrupulous with the law. One of the rules is that confessions are not admissible in court. What he says here is not admissible. No! They do not declare Jesus guilty. They say he deserves to die. There is a difference.

In US courts, when double jeopardy, that is the current legal term, comes up, lower state and local courts can and do appeal to federal courts for the filing of federal charges. The murder of African Americans in the south and subsequent acquittals because the killer was white resulted in convictions in federal courts for violations of civil rights. The same occurs in Jesus trial. Unable to get a conviction, the appeal is to the federal court, Rome. When we say the Jews killed Jesus, we speak in error. Their court resulted in a hung jury, not a conviction. It did not get them off the hook for the next two thousand years.

three crossesIn particular, in Luke, we see the same in the two criminals killed with Jesus. One chooses the path of Barabbas, the path of violence. He dies angry, unrepentant, and arguing for Jesus’ death. The other becomes a follower of Jesus, a practitioner of non-violence. Jesus tells him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise is the Persian word for Eden, used in our Latin Vulgate, and in the ancient Greek book of Genesis. Today you will be with me in the Garden. When we get to heaven, their won’t be harps; there will be garden tools. If we cannot take care of this planet, why should God allow us into the next one?

The other little thing about Jesus’ trial. Jesus says, “From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven…” The Hebrew word for cloud is עַנְנֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם. Hebrew would say, “The great flow of the poor,” as עַנְנֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם. It is the same phrase. Jesus seems to be threatening social upheaval and the court views it that way. That is why they are so angry.

“As you treat the least of these my brothers, you do it to me.” There is a clear threat. Jesus will repudiate the violence of Bar Abbas. He is a different Bar Abbas, a different Son of the Father, but the result is the same. It does not matter how the poor became poor. It does not matter if we say they are guilty or if they deserve to die. The result is the same.

As we move forward past Easter, let us remember, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out. I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out. I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Hispanics. I did not speak out. I am not Hispanic. Then they came for the Arabs and the Muslims. I did not speak out. I am not Arabic or Muslim. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemöller