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The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time C: January 28, 2007

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Luke 4:21-30

Dear Jesus,

      Fortune and fame can change in a moment.  One can go from idol to pariah in the blink of an eye.  The late President Gerald Ford was a popular replacement for his disgraced predecessor, but when Ford pardoned him, Ford’s political career was over.  Others have fallen from loftier heights to the depths of disgrace and infamy with a change in the wind and tide.

      What did you do that caused the throng of admirers amazed at your words and speaking highly of you to do such an about-face and want to throw you from the brow of the hill and kill you?  They didn’t start when you spoke of being the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promised era of favor with the Lord, a time of liberation and peace, even though nothing yet had happened to prove that statement.  These were the neighbors among whom you had grown through childhood to an adult.  Did they cluck and coo as they boasted to each other about knowing you when, about being friends with your parents, about their children having been your playmates?  What did you do that in an instant transformed all that into rage?  Had they been wallowing in self-indulgent and elitist pride at their collective consciousness that all the promised fulfillment of which you spoke was exclusively for them, for those who had an in with you because they were family and friends?

      In a blink of an eye you went to others of their sacred texts and reminded them of miracles and deliverance in times of famine and disease for the Israelites.  But those who were cured and delivered were not from the household but were gentiles.  No Israelite at that time had been so blessed because none had so welcomed the prophets or their message.  Did your neighbors in Nazareth hear your warning about their lack of faith?  Did they recognize your words as a challenge to them to think outside the box and imagine community with and responsibility for Gentiles?  Were you saying that God loves Gentiles, too?  And so you fell from favor.

      Things haven’t changed much in the intervening centuries.  People still want to luxuriate in a comfortable gospel that announces special favor and rewards.  They are not a few who are convinced that claiming you as Messiah and Lord will bring temporal favors and fortune.  And all of this as a sign of God’s love for them!

      I have to admit to nostalgia for the old days when lines of demarcation were clearer and the path to salvation surer and more clearly defined.  And some gloried in a very narrow definition of what outside the church meant as it applied to those who could be saved.  Going to mass was less challenging. We could be wrapped in solitude as we thrilled to Latin chants and luxurious polyphony from the ages – all of it awesome, as we adored on bended knee.  It was safer then and didn’t take nearly as long.

      It isn’t comfortable anymore.  Music and movement are part of the invitation to enter into Mystery.  But now it’s all challenge and call to conversion, a challenge to recognize the Church as the people of God and all of those who are part of it, called to be servants to each other and the rest of God’s people.  What’s in it for me?  What will be my reward?   How will I know God’s favor for me?  If we dare to come to Eucharist, it must be as part of the Assembly, one with it to be formed and transformed at the Table of the Word, formed and transformed at the Table of Eucharist, and sent.  And for what purpose?  To bring glad tidings to the lowly.

      Am I right in thinking that with you it is all risk and vulnerability?  No one can imitate you and serve from a lofty position of superiority.  The model you gave was foot-washer.  Did I correctly understand you to say that if I were to follow you I must aspire to be a foot-washer?  That type of service is a sign of the Love of God that you bring.  I think I could be comfortable with washing certain people’s feet, people close to me and like me.  But that’s not your message, is it?  That’s not your challenge.  I have to be willing to wash Jewish feet and Islamic and even pagan feet.  I must be willing to wash women’s feet as well as men, young people’s feet and those of the old.  I must wash the feet of gay people as well as those of straight people, too.  I must bow down before and be subservient to other races and creeds, people with countries of origin other than my own.  And if I strive to do that I run the risk of being misunderstood, rejected, and condemned – just like you.

      Bread broken.  Cup poured out.  Blessed.  Distributed.  Is that all there is?  That isn’t what I thought at the beginning.  That is not what I thought you meant when you proclaimed the season of favor with the Lord.  I thought it was my deliverance and my liberation and my healing.

      All of a sudden it changed.  And nothing has been the same since.



The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time C: January 21, 2007

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6. 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

Dear Jesus,

Who was Theophilus, the man for whom Luke wrote his gospel and Acts? Was he a very influential person that he merited Luke’s witness that would lead Theophilus to certainty about you, your mission and meaning? His name means God lover. Is it possible that Theophilus wasn’t an individual, but rather a personification of all those who love God and seek faith in you? It doesn’t really matter, I guess. But if Theophilus isn’t a particular person but a representative of all who love God then I can imagine Luke wrote for me and others like me in every age.

I love to ponder this passage that follows Luke’s telling of your early years, the Christmas narrative that concludes with your parents’ three-day search for you, finding you in your Father’s house, and then your going down to Nazareth and being subject to Joseph and Mary in the home they provided for you. And it follows the narrative of your exhausting struggle in the desert. Now the Spirit brings you to the synagogue in Galilee. I wish I could have been there to hear you read from Isaiah and hear the proclamation of the text that begins with the Spirit of the Lord is upon me. All the promise that is in that text must have thrilled the hearers, especially those who numbered themselves among the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed, that who longed for deliverance and hungered for a year acceptable to the Lord. The desperate ones must have thrilled to hear you say that the answer to their hopes would come through you. And the acceptable time is now.

Ezra read to the people from the book of the Law. He read for hours. All those people stood and listened. Men and women and children old enough to understand, stood and listened to the proclamation and were transfixed by the experience. The Law was not oppressive, was it? Rather, didn’t the Law remind them of their relationship with God, that God was their God and they were God’s people? That would be so if they lived according to the Law. But something more happens with this proclamation. The people sense God’s presence. God is in the living word Ezra proclaims. There reaction imitates Moses’ when God spoke from the Burning Bush. The people prostrated themselves before God present before them. Is that what the people sensed when you, at the end of your reading, rolled up the scroll and said, Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing! This is the acceptable time. This is the day of salvation and deliverance for those desperate ones who need God. God is coming to them through you. I wish I could have been there to hear you.

Are you looking at me with pity, marveling at my lack of understanding? Even as I wrote that last line it occurred to me that that timeless time, that year of favor is now, continually coming to us from God through you. The Word is alive and filled with God’s presence if only I listen with faith. If only I believe. If only. But the gospel is not proclaimed just to me, but to me and those others with me who make up the Assembly. We gather around the Table of your Word to be nourished. If we hunger, we will hear. What would happen if, having heard, this assembly rolled up the scroll and understood that the fulfillment promised could only happen through your acting through them as your Body, the Church?

Isn’t that what Paul is getting at in that lengthy passage from First Corinthians? What is the purpose for the analysis of the human body and its many parts Paul puts before the Corinthians if not to stir them to action. Isn’t he inviting them and us to stop envying other people’s talents and recognize their/our own? Gifts and talents seem ordinary to those to whom they have been given and extraordinary to those who do not possess them. The important thing for Paul is not other people’s gifts but one’s own. My gifts are the only ones I have. Envying another’s will never make them mine. But if I see other people’s gifts complimenting mine and mine theirs I ought to be amazed at the possibilities.

I remember that I have been baptized and given a baptismal priesthood that I must exercise. I am through Baptism united with you and with all the baptized. And I think you want me to be strengthened by the realization that God loves those identified with you with the same love God has for you. I have called you (by name) and you are mine.

This brings me back to those mentioned in Isaiah’s text that you read. The poor. The blind. The lame. The imprisoned. And I would add those suffering in war-torn lands, those ravaged by disease, AIDS, malaria, and all those others desperate for relief. You make me aware of them even as you challenge me to recognize you in them. They are your brokenness and they continue your passion. You do not want me to wonder how I will ever be able to meet the needs of those masses of people. But at the same time you do not want me to be paralyzed into inaction because of the magnitude of the problem. The Church is the people of God. If each of the members of the Church makes his/her gifts available for use by the Church then it becomes possible for you living in and working through each one of us to continue to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.




The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time C: January 14, 2007

Isaiah 62:1-5
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11

Dear Jesus,

Had I been there, would I have been among the number who began to believe in you? That is always at the heart of the questions that I ask you. When does faith begin? When will I know that I believe? That is what I want more than anything else in the world. But how will I know that I believe?

The marriage feast at Cana continues the unfolding of the Epiphany, doesn’t it? You are revealed to those who see the sign and interpret it. They recognize you as Lord, the one in whom people can believe. It all depends on signs and their interpretation. Stone water jars. Guests gathered for a feast. Abundance needed beyond the capacity of the host to provide. You in the midst. And your mother. Oh, and a marriage. That’s important, too.

Are you reluctant to make this manifestation, this Epiphany? You are in the midst of the guests with those who already have made the decision about you, your disciples with you at table. You notice everything. Nothing escapes you. You recognize the need. But is there an established order that you think must be observed, an hour yet to come and toward which all the signs along the way will point? It is not time yet for the great Epiphany that only can be accomplished when you are lifted up. Or should I say, be accomplished only when you are lifted up?

Your mother in contemporary parlance pushes the envelope. In bringing the need to you, it is with confidence, that is, with faith, that you will do something about that need. She doesn’t tell you to do anything. She just tells the guests to obey you, to follow you, to be one with you. It will work out. There is salvation in this moment if we, for I am there in the moment, do as you tell us. There is always a way if our wills are one, and in that unity, one with God’s will.

Six stone water jars of huge capacity stand empty and waiting. It is not only the wine that has run out. Water, a treasured resource, is a sign of God’s blessing. Abundant water speaks of God’s abundant, even lavish love. And it is a sign of the wisdom poured out since the Covenant began. This is an arid time of strained relationships, a winter of long duration that yearns for spring.

But it is not a hopeless time. A couple comes together to establish a covenanted relationship – a sign of God’s blessing. Guests rejoice and if they see can be strengthened in their own faith quest. The nuptials can bolster faltering hope.

Woman! A sharp rebuke to your mother for imposing from the women’s section upon the affairs of the men? Are you saying, keep and know your place. Or is there a deep sigh that escapes with the word of profound respect, a sigh similar to the one that will precede the uttering of Lazarus’ name when you call him out of death’s grasp? There are moments once entered from which there is no turning back. They have no wine. Whispered? Said aloud for all to hear? Woman!

And so spring begins.

Fill the jars. The resources must have been at hand. Others have to act. They must draw the water from the well and pour it into the jars. But you don’t do the drawing or the pouring. And when the task is finished you don’t go to the jars and bow and breathe over them with machinations and incantations that might have preceded such a sign. Draw some out and take it to the headwaiter. There is sign in the pouring out and in the taking and the drinking. But not necessarily understanding. For some, only the questioning of why the good wine was kept so long until the guests had drunk from inferior vats. Only the servers knew, only the ones who had drawn the water, filled the jars, and taken from them to the headwaiter. The ones who had trusted and done your bidding saw and understood. It must have been their witness that caused many others to begin to believe in you. Begin to believe. There is a way to go and many testings yet before faith’s mettle will be annealed.

What do you want me to take from this Epiphany? I cast about in this winter longing for relief. I beg you to draw me out and deliver me. With others I put the needs before you as if I have to bring them to your attention. There are many people who are hungry and more who feel disenfranchised and debased. Wars continue to be waged and innocents slaughtered. Millions die from AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, and neglect. Dare I ask you if you notice? Because I suspect that if I do you will tell me to do something myself. The needs are beyond my ken to meet. The water jars stand empty attesting to my poverty. I can flail in helpless agitation until you remind me that I am not alone. The resources are not mine. The means exist in the community of which I am a part gathered at your table sharing in your feast. And if we take and eat, if we take and drink, if we dare to go and do the same, the best that has been kept to last will be more than enough to meet the needs. And many will begin to believe.