Thursday, April 18, 2024

THE GOOD SHEPHERD


I believe most of us know Psalm 23 by heart. We are not talking about one or two verses here. This is a whole chapter from the Bible that most of us have memorized since Kindergarten. This is one chapter that has given courage to so many when they were afraid. This is one chapter so many people have held onto when they crossed over to the life beyond. Shepherd works as a metaphor for God in the Psalm. The good shepherd will never abandon the sheep. The sheep will never, ever, be alone.


In Sunday's lection from John 10, Jesus talks about sheep and shepherds. Sheep do know the voice of their shepherd. Sheep do follow their shepherd in and out of the sheepfold. Sheep do run away from those whose voice they do not know. The good shepherd wil never abandon the sheep. The sheep will never, ever, be alone.

Lest we forget--then and now--women make up more than half of the world's shepherds. Let's stop imagining that the good shepherd in the Bible has to be male. Rebekah, Rachel, Miriam, Zipporah and her sisters were shepherds. The shepherds who visited Jesus when he was born were probably all women. Most importantly, many faith communities celebrate Mary of Nazareth, the mother of the Lamb of God, as a shepherd!

My dear friends, for many among us, the good shepherd is a woman.


*image: Palestine: A Bedouin Shepherd spinning yarn in the Sharon Region. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

BROILED FISH FOR A STRANGER

Who are the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the unwelcomed, and the prisoners that Jesus challenges us to serve, to take sides with, and to love? The stranger.

Who are the widows, the orphans, the indigenous peoples, and the foreigners that-- over and over--the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms enjoin us to care for, to hold dear, and to treat as sisters and brothers? The stranger.

Who are the daily wage earners, the laborers who survive from paycheck to paycheck, the homeless, the jobless, and the most vulnerable in a world ravaged by life-negating capitalism that we are supposed to prioritize? Yes, the stranger.

If we read our Bibles and pray every day, then we will grow in the realization that--most often than not--God comes as a stranger. God did when God shared the promise of Isaac's birth. God did when God judged the arrogance and inhospitality of Sodom and Gomorrah. God did when God wrestled with Jacob at Jabbok.

God came as a stranger when God was born in a manger instead of a palace; in Galilee instead of Jerusalem; among the odorized and the otherized; and grew up in a mud hut instead of a white house.

In Luke 24, two disciples on the road to Emmaus encounter the Risen One as a complete stranger. Their eyes were eventually opened and their hearts strangely warmed when they broke bread with him. In Sunday's lection, the Risen One suddenly appeared to the gathered disciples who were startled and terrified and thought he was a ghost!

God always comes as a stranger. This is why we welcome the dispossessed, the displaced, the disenfranchised. This is why we open our homes, our churches, our spaces to Lumads, to People Living with HIV and AIDS, to refugees, to Palestinians, to those whose only hope is God.

God comes as a stranger.

This is why we always, always offer sanctuary. And during these trying times, sanctuary can mean that extra room in our house, the available spaces in our church offices and buildings, the vacant rooms in our dormitories, and, yes, that extra bed. Safe spaces. A simple meal. Even a piece of broiled fish.



*art, "Jesus appears at Emmaus," JESUS MAFA, 1973 (Cameroon), from the vanderbilt divinity library digital archives.
 

Thursday, April 04, 2024

THE RESURRECTION REQUIRES WARM BODIES

We always imagine the resurrected body. I have heard long discussions on how resurrected bodies are supposed to look, including what superhuman abilities these new bodies will have. Sometimes, our imagination gets the better of us.


Of this, I'm sure: despite their differences (and there are a lot), the four gospels all tell us that the Risen One has a body. In Sunday's lection from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side." The Risen One has a body, and that resurrected body still bears the marks of the crucifixion. God knows who is responsible for each wound.

Every single day so many of our sisters and brothers--who serve the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized--are red-tagged, abducted, tortured, brutalized, and crucified. The horrors inflicted on the Palestinian People in Gaza and the West Bank continue unabated.

But take heart! God knows. God will never forget the crucified. God knows everyone under the rubble. God will raise up each and every one of them. God always remembers the marks of each crucifixion. And God knows who is responsible for each of those wounds!

Dear Friends, then and now, the resurrection requires warm bodies that embody justice, solidarity, and life-giving. The resurrection requires warm bodies that will rise up for those who have fallen, that will continue the struggle for peace based on justice, and that will inspire more live-giving.

The resurrection always requires warm bodies: yours and mine.


*art, "Jesus appears to Thomas," JESUS MAFA, Cameroon 1973 (from vanderbilt divinity library digital archives).

Saturday, March 30, 2024

SURPRISE!

Most of us love stories with surprises. The disciples in Mark 16: 1-8 were in for a few surprises themselves. They went to the tomb that early Sunday morning bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body worrying about the stone blocking the tomb. Unlike many doors in our homes, offices, and churches—with its specific locks and numeric codes—the disciples had no key to unlock the door.


They expected a locked tomb, they expected a dead body inside, and they expected to use the spices they brought to anoint that dead body. But, and we all know this already, when they got there the stone had already been rolled away, the tomb was empty, there was no dead body to anoint—Jesus was not where they expected him to be.

Like the disciples at the tomb, we want Jesus in a box, with a lock, where we could do whatever we want to do with him. Moreover, like the disciples we expect Jesus to be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is supposed to be a holy place. It is where God is supposed to be. It is a monument to faith and the faithful. Do not forget this—the disciples went to the tomb expecting a dead Jesus. Over and over in the Markan story, especially in chapters 8, 9 and 10, Jesus told his followers that he will rise to life. Jesus’ followers did not believe him. They went to the tomb to anoint a dead person.

Dead people have no power over us. Sure we visit their graves once or twice a year. For many Christians, churches have become tombs—where they visit Jesus an hour or two once a week. A dead Jesus has no power over us; he cannot make demands on our lives, on our work, on our time, our talents, our treasures, our plans and commitments. A dead Jesus is a safe Jesus.

But alas, Jesus is not dead and he is not where we want him to be. He is risen. And he is not in heaven nor is he in Jerusalem. He is back in Galilee—where we don’t want him to be, among the sick, the poor, the demon-possessed, the marginalized. He is back in Galilee along the path that ultimately led to his crucifixion, along the path that ultimately led to the offering of his life.

He is risen! And he is already there waiting for us. Yes, for you and for me!

*image, "The Empty Tomb" (from St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Decatur, IL)

Thursday, March 28, 2024

JUST AS HE TOLD YOU

It is very disconcerting to celebrate Easter Sunday apart from the horrors of the Friday before it, but many people find nothing problematic about this. The crucifix has become a fashion accessory for a lot of folks. They can do their Easter egg hunts, play with Easter Bunnies, enjoy their Easter sunrise services, and preach about a risen, triumphant Lord without any thought that the God we proclaim as risen was actually executed on Calvary. Jesus of Nazareth did not die. The Romans killed Jesus.


He was illegally arrested late night Thursday, then beaten, stripped naked, brutalized, flogged, and crucified by morning of Friday. He was a victim of state-sanctioned terrorism. We who call ourselves Christian actually follow an executed God.

Millions of our sisters and brothers died from COVID-19. Majority of them were defenseless against the virus, ravaged by the systemic violence of poverty, hunger, and the inequitable distribution of the world's wealth. Every day in our country, in Myanmar, in Sri Lanka, in many parts of Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the rest of the world, people are being crucified, victims of institutionalized oppression—genocide, racism, gender injustice, capital punishment, global capitalism, extra-judicial killings, militarization, and marginalization.

And now, every single day so many of our sisters and brothers are murdered in Gaza and in the West Bank, just like Jesus. They do not even get the dignity of a burial; their bodies remain under the rubble.

What does it mean to proclaim a resurrection faith in the midst of all these? What does it mean then for us, who are among these crucified peoples, to proclaim Jesus as risen from the dead?

Easter Sunday's lection from Mark tells us about a young man at the empty tomb. He tells the disciples that Jesus has been raised up and that "he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

JUST AS HE TOLD YOU!

The Gospel of Mark ends in verse 8: the disciples were silent and afraid. Like many among us. We are afraid to speak truth to power. We are afraid to carry the cross and follow Jesus. We are afraid to go to Galilee. We are afraid to be executed like him.

What do we have? A promise of resurrection. God's promise. Jesus’ word. The young man said so: "Just as he told you."

Jesus’ word. Is this enough for us to believe? Is this enough for us to continue?


*art, "Easter, Empty Tomb," JESUS MAFA, 1973 (Cameroon), from the vanderbilt divinity library digital collection.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

TO BE CONTINUED...

Years back I had the rare privilege of attending meetings of the Jesus Seminar held in New Orleans. During one meeting, I asked the group, "Why did Jesus need to go to Jerusalem?" His Galilee-based, grassroots movement was doing great. Going to Jerusalem was suicide. Even his disciples knew this; they did not want to him to go to Jerusalem, especially Peter. It did not make sense. But Jesus went anyway.

John Dominic Crossan volunteered John 7, where Jesus' brothers tell him, "No one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world!" We all know how this story ends. But I don't think for a moment that Jesus went because of what his brothers said.

Gabriela Silang did not need to take over leadership after Diego was assassinated in 1763. Jose Rizal did not need to come back to the Philippines in 1892. Bonifacio did not need to go to the Magdalo camp in Cavite in 1896. Ernesto Che Guevara did not need to go to Bolivia in 1967. The scores of medical professionals, journalists, UN workers, and volunteers who went to Gaza to help the Palestinian People did not need to go there. We also know how these stories ended.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem he did so with over 5000, made up of mostly farmers and fisherfolk. Sunday's lection from Mark and John tell us the masses welcomed them with hosannas! Historians tell us, Pontius Pilate also entered the city from the opposite direction with a Roman Legion. (That is 6,000 professional soldiers!).

Jesus did not need to go to Jerusalem. Jesus did not need to cleanse the Temple with a whip. But, he did anyway. Mark reports that every single day the authorities tried to arrest him but they were afraid of the masses who protected him. So, they arrested him at night, with a Roman Cohort. (That is one battalion!)

First came a movement. Then an execution. But surprise of surprises, the movement continues. To this day!

Jesus knew exactly what he was doing!

Thus, movement, execution, and continuation. These three remain, but the greatest of these is continuation.

*art, "Entry into the City" by John August Swanson (available from the vanderbilt divinity library digital art collection).

Thursday, March 14, 2024

UNLESS A GRAIN OF WHEAT DIES...

Two of the more popular metaphors for the church come from Paul. When you ask people what the church is, as far as the New Testament is concerned, many will respond with "Body of Christ" or "Bride of Christ."

There are actually more metaphors, and three of the most powerful come from Jesus: Salt. Light. And a grain of wheat.

We have heard so many homilies about these three. We are the salt of the earth, we give flavor to life. We are the light of the world, we push away the darkness. We are a grain of wheat, we need to bear fruit... We feel good about being salt, light, and a grain of wheat.

And we miss what those metaphors demand from us: all require self-sacrifice, all require emptying, all require death...

Salt dissolves. Light burns out. And as Jesus in Sunday's lection declares, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

We should never forget what Jesus commands us: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." We should never forget what his earliest disciples remind us: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another."

We should never, ever, forget that we follow a Crucified and Risen Lord. There is no Resurrection without the Crucifixion.


*image from ConnectUSFund.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

I believe most of us know Psalm 23 by heart. We are not talking about one or two verses here. This is a whole chapter from the Bible that mo...