Thursday, March 23, 2023


When my father died ten years ago two people-- two pastors, on two separate occasions-- congratulated me for his death.

When Lazarus died, his two sisters Martha and Mary, on separate occasions, spoke with Jesus. Martha told Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Mary, weeping, told Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!"


Yes, not even Jesus!

When Jesus saw Mary and everyone else weeping for his dearest friend, he was overwhelmed with sorrow and deeply moved. Jesus wept.

Three of my uncles--Dante, Ve, and Namor--died in the past 16 months; Uncle Namor, last Monday. When a loved one dies, we don't pretend that everything is okay. When a loved one dies, congratulations are never in order. When a loved one dies, we are allowed to mourn.

When a loved one dies, we weep! When the pain of their death aches--even years or decades after the fact--we grieve!

Jesus wept.

*image, "Jesus wept," by Tissot available online at fine art america. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023


Sunday's Johannine lection is an eye-opener.

The disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused the blindness of the man: his or his parents'. Since the man was born blind, he was already a sinner inside his mother's womb! Actually, he was already a sinner even before he was even conceived since his parents were sinners!

Recently, I overheard a homily during a wedding ceremony. The pastor was telling the newly-weds that Jesus is the most important person in their relationship because the bride and groom were sinners. And Jesus will remain the most important person in their relationship when they become a family since all their children will also be sinners!

Why is Sunday's lection an eye-opener? Because the one who healed the sinner was also a sinner. Over and over in the passage, the Pharisees call Jesus a sinner (as well as the man who was healed). For the Pharisees, healing on the Sabbath was a sin. So was making mud! They were totally and willfully blind to the gifts of grace and healing before their very eyes.

Not just that, they would sooner collaborate with the Roman empire to have Jesus murdered than open their eyes and join him in sharing their gifts and fighting alongside the common people. Because Jesus is a sinner and the wages of sin is death!

I pray we do not think this. I pray we never turn blind eyes to the miracles of grace and healing that happen every day.

*art, "Jesus cures the Man born Blind," JESUS MAFA, Cameroon 1973 (from the vanderbilt divinity library digital archives).

Thursday, March 09, 2023


By the time of Jesus, the enmity between Jews and Samaritans had been ongoing for at least 600 years. Imagine the Jews being told over and over throughout the centuries that they are not the real Israelites: the Samaritans were. Thus, the Samaritans had the original Pentateuch written by Moses. [Incidentally, if you compare the Samaritan Pentateuch with the Jewish version, there are at least 6000 differences.] And that they worshipped God in the right place, Mount Gerizim in Shechem, and that the bastardized Jewish sect founded by Kings David and Solomon based in the Jerusalem Temple was an abomination before God.

Imagine the Chosen People being told over and over throughout the centuries that they are not really the Chosen People. The Samaritans were.

Sunday's John 4 lection notes this centuries-old enmity. Moreover, as the disciples's suprise show, Jesus was talking not just with the enemy, but a female at that!

I love this narrative. It is the longest pericope in the gospels where Jesus is in conversation with another person. This might be the one moment in the Gospels that Jesus meets his match. They speak as equals. They talk about their own faith traditions. They talk about their differences. And they talk about their people's hope. Not one moment do they treat each other as enemies.

My friends, I love this narrative. I pray you do too.

P.S. Let us not forget that a well was the setting for the unions of Rebekah and Isaac, Rachel and Jacob, and Zipporah and Moses.

*art, "Jesus’s and the Samaritan Woman," JESUS MAFA, Cameroon 1973, from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library digital archives.


Thursday, March 02, 2023


Sunday's lection contains the favorite Bible verse of many Christians: John 3:16.

I like this narrative because two men--Jesus and Nicodemus--are talking about something they do not have and an experience they never go through: wombs and birthing. When Nicodemus asks Jesus if being being born anew meant going back into his mother's womb, Jesus says no. It is being born from God's womb.

Many among us learned about the Yahwist tradition in the Torah (the Pentateuch) which describes God in anthropomorphic terms: God forming Adam from the dust of the ground; God breathing into Adam's nostrils; God planting a garden; God walking in that garden; and God making garments for Adam and Eve. Yet, God is male in these imaginings.

Female imagery for the divine is rare in the Bible. Sunday's lection challenges us to imagine God as a woman. Sunday's lection challenges us to imagine God giving birth. Sunday's lection invites us to imagine God nursing her children.

Why? Because this is how John's Jesus imagined God. Because hundreds of Judean Pillar Figurines (JPFs) found in Ancient Judahite homes and cultic sites tell us that this is how the masses imagined God. God has a womb. God has breasts. God is a mother.

Friends, Sunday's lection challenges us to imagine God beyond the boxes we have created to contain God.

*image of JPFs from Femmina Classica [In Search of Ashera: The Hebrew Lost Goddess].

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Sunday's Matthean lection is also found in Mark and Luke. The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness in Mark. In Luke and Matthew, the Spirit leads Jesus. Being driven and being led are very different descriptions. The former conjures an image of Jesus going with hesitation, even reluctance. The latter paints a picture of readiness and willingness.

Wilderness conjures up a lot of ambivalent images for us who study scripture. God appeared to Moses through the burning bush in the wilderness. The Ancient Israelites wandered almost aimlessly in the wilderness for decades. Many of them died there, including Moses. John the Baptist was a "voice of one calling in the wilderness." The wilderness does not seem like a very hospitable place. Yet, God's surprises abound in the wilderness!

And then there is the number 40, a long time in scripture. It rained 40 days and nights during the time of Noah. Forty years separated the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan River. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tested. Matthew and Luke add that he fasted. This narrative is the basis for the 40 days of Lent. We might imagine that Jesus was alone in the wilderness during those 40 days of testing. He was not. Jesus had company. Wild beasts. Angels. And Satan. God's surprises do abound in the wilderness!

My friends, let us never forget. Satan did not betray Jesus. Judas did. Satan did not deny Jesus. Peter did. Satan did not plot to arrest and kill Jesus in secret. The chief priests and scribes did. Satan did not abduct, torture, abuse, and murder Jesus. The Romans did. Satan is not behind the War on Terror and the War on the Poor. Satan is not responsible for the economies of death that pervade our world. Nor is Satan responsible for the deaths brought about by COVID-19. We all know who are responsible and should be held accountable for all these.

Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday. Who among us wants to spend 40 days in the wilderness being tested by Satan? Jesus went. And he passed.

*art, "Jesus is Tempted," JESUS MAFA, 1973, from Cameroon (from the vanderbilt divinity library digital archives).

Thursday, February 16, 2023


It's one of our earliest assignments in elementary science: metamorphosis, from caterpillar to butterfly. Sunday's lection is also about metamorphosis although most English Bibles use "transfiguration."

If we read our Bibles then we know that Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all experience mountain-top encounters with God. All three went through very trying and challenging times in their lives and their encounter with God enabled them to complete the tasks that God has called them to do. The three went up caterpillars, they came down butterflies.


But not everyone who encounters God come back as butterflies. Like Peter. In the mountain Peter experienced something so special, so unique that we expected him to come out as a butterfly. He does not. He opposes Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem. He denies Jesus. Three times!

Everyone who encounters God in God’s mountain needs to come down. When Moses came down he led in the birthing of a people whose love for Yahweh was expressed in love for neighbor, especially the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the strangers. When Elijah came down he continued the struggle against Israel’s oppressive kings and began a prophetic tradition that ended with John the Baptizer. When Jesus came down he followed the path that led to Jerusalem and eventually to the cross.

My friends, do catterpillars know they will turn into butterflies?

To believe in God's power to effect metamorphosis is to believe that goodness will always triumph over evil; that hope is stronger than despair; that faith conquers fear; that love is greater than indifference; that life will always, always, conquer death! To believe in metamorphosis is to believe in God's power to transform catterpillars into butterflies. Yes, eventually even Peter. And, yes, even you and me!

*art, "The Transfiguration," JESUS MAFA, Cameroon 1973 (from the vanderbilt divinity library digital archives)

Thursday, February 09, 2023


The Gospel Readings since the end of January have been on Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount," particularly Chapter 5. "The Law and the Prophets" serves as a hermeneutical key when reading these passages.

My Jewish teachers in graduate school taught us that one of the best ways to understand the Hebrew Bible--especially the Law (Genesis to Deuteronomy) and the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve [Hosea to Malachi])--is to focus on who speaks for God in these traditions.

In the Law, God speaks through Moses. In the Prophets, God speaks through Elijah (and Elisha, Deborrah, Samuel, and the rest of the prophets). In our lection (and in the gospels), God speaks through Jesus.

My friends, God speaks through anyone God chooses. God especially speaks through those whose lives proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, liberation for the oppressed, and God's Jubilee of justice!

Lest we forget: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus are not, and never have been, Christians. Those of us who take pride in calling ourselves Christian should stop thinking that we have exclusive access to God.

*art, "Sermon on the Mount (2010)," by Laura James (from the vanderbilt divinity library digital archives).


When my father died ten years ago two people-- two pastors, on two separate occasions-- congratulated me for his death. When Lazarus died, h...