April 30, 2017 - Post-Liberal Theology

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.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

Luke 24:13-35

St. Paul famously said, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:14) It is a phrase often repeated by Christians in this Easter season.  It is, to some of them, a pledge of allegiance to the supernatural element of faith and the instances of the unexplainable in Scripture.  In our skeptical age, it can serve as a doctrinal gatekeeper -  keeping out the Doubting Thomases who find that aspect of faith less than compelling.

I respectfully disagree with St. Paul.  Our Jewish brothers and sister have faith in God despite having no confidence at all in Jesus’s resurrection.  Our Muslim brothers and sisters believe Jesus did not die but was raised bodily into heaven, and so do not pass St. Paul’s test, but nonetheless have a robust faith in God. Resurrection and bodily ascension is not unique to Jesus.  Isaiah was raised into heaven by a flaming chariot and horses.  Enoch may have ascended into heaven.  Jesus, during his lifetime, raised Lazarus from the dead, and Peter and Paul both demonstrate the ability to raise the dead themselves.

Those who are skeptical of the supernatural, magical claims of faith and Scripture often swing the pendulum too far toward the moral.  They reduce Jesus to a moral example: a cosmic proponent of virtue, a good man sent by God to increase charitable contributions and to encourage the development of talents for the common good.  To enormous swaths of Christianity, Jesus and God are cheerleaders of good public policy, demanding certain political allegiances which, if followed, will lead to a utopian global government characterized by tolerance, compassion, and equality.

But there are countless examples within Scripture that indicate Jesus was not interested in being a moral example.  Perhaps the most egregious is his treatment of the Canaanite woman seeking healing for her possessed (or epileptic) daughter.  She was a member of a hated minority, whose land was conquered and occupied by Jesus’s community – the accursed descendants of Noah’s son, Ham.  Jesus eventually helps her, but only after he declares her value to be equal to that of a dog and she accedes to the comparison. No moral example is moral only some of the time. Additionally, Jesus outright resisted comment on the political situation of his time – deftly avoiding criticism of the Roman occupiers.  

No, there is something more to faith beyond the magical and the moral.  It does not lend itself to pithy theologies that can fit on a bumper sticker. It is difficult to talk about. It requires language of Redemption and Salvation that does not come easily to modern lips.  It is a belief system rather than a value system.  But the belief system is not dependent on the miraculous. 

Consolation Series - Part 87 - Jesus's Farewell Address (End of Consolation Series)

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also. You know where I go, and you know the way.”

I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more; but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also. In that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, I give to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.

John 14:1-4, 18-20, 27


Thanks to all of you who followed along with the Consolation Series this Lent! The blog's readership expanded substantially, but being pledged to work with the most beautiful, comforting passages of Scripture daily through Lent was the greatest pleasure. The rest of my Lenten pledges didn't work out nearly as well. Following today’s passage, I will return to the blog's original subject matter and a more manageable posting schedule (at least one of each Sunday's readings and, frequently, one or two more passages during the week).   The full set of Consolation Series posts will remain available indefinitely. Thanks again, and happy Easter and Passover!

Consolation Series - Part 85 - Death, Where is Your Sting?

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must become imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable body will have become imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 51-58

Photo credit: Zoe Grozinger

April 23, 2017 - Proof of God's Existence

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

John 20:19-31

Thomas is demanding proof.  It is strange that he is held up to such criticism in the same church that declares Origen, Augustine, Plino, and Aquinas to be doctors of the church and, in some cases, saints.  These men contributed to theology with arguments for God’s existence such as the ontological argument, the cosmological argument and the teleological argument. They envisioned God as the First Cause, the Unmoved Mover and that of which nothing more perfect can be conceived.  In other words, they sought proof.

But what each of these philosophers has done is changed the image of God from the warm, personal God of Scripture Who can be moved by the suffering of His people, to a cold impersonal god of physics – a force, an explanation, and a principle.   Ironically, they have done unspeakable violence to faith with proof-seeking.

Abraham Heschel points out that people believe in God on an intuitive level.  We only use the classical proofs to defend our beliefs to others or to justify them to ourselves.  Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s research in the field of social psychology indicates we hold our moral and political views in the same way:  we only use reasons to defend or support our already firmly held intuitive views.  He uses the analogy of a rider (reason) and an elephant (intuition).  We might expect (and even hope) that our rider is in charge, but empirical evidence demonstrates the rider is simply making excuses for where the elephant has already taken us.  Anyone who believes they are guided primarily by reason, whether liberal or conservative, theist or atheist, is self-deceived.  

Genuine belief cannot be commanded.  By pronouncing those who believe without evidence to be ‘blessed’, Jesus cannot possibly be suggesting they are somehow morally superior.

Instead, Jesus is pointing out that, when we insist on evidence to defend our intuition of God to others or to ourselves, we take ourselves down a path to a cold, impersonal god that has little in common with the God of Scripture.

Some do not have an intuitive sense of God’s existence.  They certainly cannot be commanded to believe something they do not feel.  A just God will love them anyway. (And, if we take the Beatitudes seriously, He loves the poor in spirit more.)  People of faith, virtually by definition, have that intuitive sense of God.  If we insist on ironclad proof to support our intuition as Thomas did, however, we can diminish our intuitive, revelatory understanding of God.

Image: The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio (1602)  I hope he washed that finger first.

Consolation Series - Part 84 - Love

If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient and is kind. Love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

Consolation Series - Part 83 - Eye Has Not Seen

But as it is written,

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
nor has it so much as entered into the heart of man,
what God has prepared for those who love him.”

1 Corinthians 2:9 quoting Isaiah 64:4

Image: Tim Daniels, www.lapseoftheshutter.com

Consolation Series - Part 82 - Romans

What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things? Who could bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

Consolation Series - Part 86

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. 

John 1:5

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 

John 3:16

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created in the heavens and on the earth, visible things and invisible things, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence.  For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him,  and through him to reconcile all things to himself by him, whether things on the earth or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:12-20

Image: The first chapter of Genesis written on an egg.  Israel Museum

Consolation Series - Part 81 - Philippians

Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I will say, “Rejoice!” Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4-7

Consolation Series - Part 80 - Easter

I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away, and the sea is no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice out of heaven saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away.”

He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He said, “Write, for these words of God are faithful and true.” He said to me, “I have become the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give freely to him who is thirsty from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes, I will give him these things. I will be his God, and he will be my son. 

One of the seven angels came, and he spoke with me, saying, “Come here. I will show you the wife, the Lamb’s bride.” He carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, as if it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal; having a great and high wall; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. The city was pure gold, like pure glass. The foundations of the city’s wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; and the twelfth, amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each one of the gates was made of one pearl. The street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. The city has no need for the sun or moon to shine, for the very glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk in its light. The kings of the earth bring the glory and honor of the nations into it. Its gates will in no way be shut by day (for there will be no night there), and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it so that they may enter. 

He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will be no curse any more. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no night, and they need no lamp light or sun light; for the Lord God will illuminate them. They will reign forever and ever.

Revelations 21:1-7, 9-14, 18-26; 22:1-5 

Consolation Series - Part 79 - Revelations

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could count, out of every nation and of all tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. They cried with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation be to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

All the angels were standing around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before his throne, and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might, be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

One of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and where did they come from?”

I told him, “My lord, you know.”

He said to me, “These are those who came out of the great suffering. They washed their robes, and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. Therefore, they are before the throne of God, they serve him day and night in his temple. He who sits on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them. They will never be hungry or thirsty any more. The sun won’t beat on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the middle of the throne shepherds them and leads them to springs of life-giving waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelations 7:9-17

Good Friday - I AM

So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards
from the chief priests and the Pharisees
and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.
Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him,
went out and said to them, "Whom are you looking for?"
They answered him, "Jesus the Nazorean."
He said to them, "I AM."
Judas his betrayer was also with them.
When he said to them, "I AM, "
they turned away and fell to the ground.
So he again asked them,
"Whom are you looking for?"
They said, "Jesus the Nazorean."
Jesus answered,
"I told you that I AM.
So if you are looking for me, let these men go."
This was to fulfill what he had said,
"I have not lost any of those you gave me."

John 18

One can hardly do justice to the Passion narrative on Good Friday with commentary so I’ll limit myself to an admittedly trite observation:

When Jesus asks the soldiers who they are looking for and they tell him, “Jesus the Nazorean,” he replies, “I AM”.  Miraculously, they turn and fall.  

I reviewed several commentaries on this passage and found little.  It is interesting that, “I am,” is grammatically not really a proper reply to the soldiers.  It should be, “I am he.” I also couldn’t find any stated reason why the Lectionary capitalizes, “I AM”.  Whatever its nature, Jesus’s utterance has the extraordinary effect of spinning the soldiers around on their heels and knocking them off their feet.

The Old Testament parallels come fast and furious throughout the Passion narrative.  My own suspicion is that Jesus is paralleling God at the burning bush when He instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that I AM has sent him. In fact, it seems pretty likely.

The Gospel of John alone identifies Jesus as identical with God.  The Synoptic Gospels see Jesus as Son of Man (which really means, “human”) and the Son of God, Messiah and the Christ, which, although unique and of exceptional importance, don’t suggest Incarnation.  In John, the references are few:  in the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus is the Word made flesh, and at the end, ironically, Doubting Thomas declares Jesus, “My Lord and my God”.  In a couple more instances, Jesus says that those who see him see God.  Here, in the Garden of Gethsemane, John seems to be expressing the same extraordinary idea at the heart of faith.

Image:  A fire on the beach by the author

Consolation Series - Part 78

Yahweh says: “I have returned to Zion, and will dwell in the middle of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called ‘The City of Truth;’ and the mountain of Yahweh, ‘The Holy Mountain.’ ”

Yahweh says: “Old men and old women will again dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age. The streets of the city will be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.”

Yahweh says: “If it is marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my eyes?” says Yahweh.

Yahweh says: “Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they will dwell within Jerusalem; and they will be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.”

“For the seed of peace and the vine will yield its fruit, and the ground will give its increase, and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things. It shall come to pass that, as you were a curse among the nations, house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you, and you shall be a blessing. Don’t be afraid. Let your hands be strong.”

Yahweh says: “Many peoples, and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come; and the inhabitants of one shall go to another, saying, ‘Let’s go speedily to entreat the favor of Yahweh, and to seek Yahweh. I will go also.’  Yes, many peoples and strong nations will come to seek Yahweh in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of Yahweh.”  Yahweh says: “In those days, ten men will take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, they will take hold of the garment of him who is a Jew, saying, ‘We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ ”

Zechariah 8:3-8, 12-13, 20-23

Image: Horicon NWR, Wisconsin

Consolation Series - Part 77 - Baruch

O Jerusalem, look about you toward the east, and behold the joy that comes to you from God. Behold, your sons come, whom you sent away, they come gathered together from the east to the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the glory of God.

Put off, O Jerusalem, the garment of your mourning and affliction, and put on the beauty of the glory that comes from God forever. Cast about you the robe of the righteousness which comes from God; set a diadem on your head of the glory of the Everlasting. For God will show your brightness to every region under heaven. For your name shall be called of God forever ‘The peace of righteousness,’ and ‘The glory of godliness.’ Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand upon the height, and look about you toward the east, and behold your children gathered from the going down of the sun to the rising thereof at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. For they went from you on foot, being led away of their enemies: but God brings them in to you borne on high with glory, as on a royal throne.  For God has appointed that every high mountain, and the everlasting hills, should be made low, and the valleys filled up, to make plain the ground, that Israel may go safely in the glory of God. Moreover, the woods and every sweet-smelling tree have overshadowed Israel by the commandment of God. For God shall lead Israel with joy in the light of his glory with the mercy and righteousness that comes from him.

Baruch 4:36-37, 5:1-9

Image: Tim Daniels, www.lapseoftheshutter.com

Holy Thursday - Part Two - The Good Friday God

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples' feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
"Master, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him,
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
Simon Peter said to him,
"Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Jesus said to him,
"Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all."
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

John 13:1-15

Almost every commentary on this passage assumes that Jesus is providing us with a moral example – an example of service to others and humility.  

But this is the Gospel of John, in which Jesus is recognized as the Incarnation of God.  These are Jesus’s last moments as a free man.  The washing of the feet entirely replaces, in John, the breaking of the bread that is the focal point of the Last Supper in the other three Gospels.  This is Passover – memorializing when God saved Israel with a strong hand and immense divine fireworks.  This is an extraordinarily important moment.  Is it possible the Incarnation comes down to, “be a nice person”?  Aren’t secular people nice people?

We can be forgiven for thinking this is just a moral example.  Jesus says as much in the closing line.  But there are clues there is more going on:

Peter wonders at what Jesus is doing.  Jesus tells him he will have absolutely no idea what’s going on.  Now, Peter is routinely depicted as being pretty dense throughout the Gospels, but to be unable to understand a simple moral example of service to others would be a new low.    

Peter insists Jesus will not subordinate himself by washing Peter’s feet.  Jesus lashes out.  He doesn’t say, “well, then you won’t get the benefit of this terrific moral example I am staging.”  The consequences are much more serious - he says Peter can have no part in him.   

Peter thinks he gets it - and wants more.  If Jesus is handing out the practical benefit of a good washing, Peter wants his hands and feet washed too.   But Jesus tells him there is more going on than just washing.  What Jesus offers is of no practical benefit.  This is a sacrament.

Then Jesus announces that he is providing an example.  But of what? The Lectionary version of this story ends before a critical line. After saying, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do,” Jesus says:

Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither is one who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:16-17)

This is mysterious. If this is parable about serving one another and humility, why would Jesus affirm that servants are not greater than their lords?  Fortunately, Jesus expressly answers this, but not for another two chapters:

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But they will do all these things to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me, hates my Father also. If I hadn’t done among them the works which no one else did, they wouldn’t have had sin. But now they have seen and also hated both me and my Father. But this happened so that the word may be fulfilled which was written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:20-25)

Jesus is not giving the apostles an example of how to live; he is giving them an example of how to die.  As the first Christians, they will not be regarded as heroes; they will be regarded as the worst kind of heretic.  According to tradition, they will be hunted down and killed in the name of God.  The Passover God will be nowhere to be seen.  In a few hours, Jesus will be mocked by the crowd and by a thief for his belief in a God Who fails to save him from the Cross.  Satan mocked Jesus too – for believing in a God who fails to turn stones into bread and protect His only son from a plunge off the Temple.  Judas decides to betray Jesus when Jesus accepts an extravagant gift of nard that could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor - Judas is scandalized by the lack of practical social benefits Jesus’s faith entails.  In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells the crowd their good fortune or misfortune is not the result of divine reward or punishment (the prevailing theology being that if you were sick, it was because of your sin) – faith doesn’t even incentivize good behavior. Although they have some narrow escapes and some miraculous help, in the end, the apostles suffer the same fate as Jesus.  They are just like us – everyone’s last prayer goes unanswered.   Faith does not come with benefits.  Jesus washes the feet of his apostles sacramentally - to initiate them in a group bound to be misunderstood, hated and persecuted, and who can expect no help from the Passover God, but who will find meaning in faith nonetheless.  Indeed, this is a cup reserved just for people of faith, and we must support each other in drinking from it

Image: Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ c.1602

Holy Thursday - Part One - The Passover God

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples' feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
"Master, are you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered and said to him,
"What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him,
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
Simon Peter said to him,
"Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well."
Jesus said to him,
"Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all."
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, "Not all of you are clean."

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another's feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do."

John 13:1-15

We’ll examine the Holy Thursday reading in two parts. 

Tonight, Jews celebrate Passover, just as Jesus did the night the events in Holy Thursday’s reading took place – the eve of his crucifixion.

Passover is, of course, the memorial of the night God killed all the first born of Egypt and led the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom.  The Passover Seder table is adorned, among other things, with a bone – a visceral reminder of the strong arm with which God saved His people.  Not only did God visit seven plagues on Egypt, but He also guided the Israelites as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  Merely turning His divine gaze of Egypt’s charioteers was enough to send them into panicked retreat.  He would split the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to cross and to use the same miracle to drown their pursuers.  In three lunar months, God will wreath Mount Sinai in smoke, flame, lightening and trumpet blasts as he conveys His covenant to Moses.

Faith is often a study in contrasts, and the fact that Jesus’s persecutors were waiting for nightfall and the end of the holy day of Passover before arresting him makes this comparison especially stark.   In contrast to the Passover God of immense divine strength and limitless protection, the Holy Thursday God is apparently enfeebled – unwilling or incapable of helping.   Jesus, Son of God, will be led to his brutal death with the Passover God nowhere to be seen.

Of course, our experience of God is usually more in keeping with the Holy Thursday God.  To say otherwise is true in many respects, but in others it is broad allegory.  We might marvel at the power of God as Creator and hope for His intervention at our deaths, but to count on Passover-level rescue from danger and suffering just isn’t a reliable occurrence.

What, then, is the message in this?   The answer seems to lie in the exchange between Jesus and Peter, but it is often (almost always) misunderstood.  That will be the subject of tomorrow’s examination.

Incidentally, the beauty of the Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil Masses always takes me by surprise.  They are, without a doubt, the most evocative of all the liturgies.   If anyone you know is curious about faith, Christianity or Catholicism, these are the Masses to bring them to.

Image: Mount Sakurajima, Tarumizu, Japan

Consolation Series - Part 76 - Isaiah 65

For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;
and the former things will not be remembered,
nor come into mind.
 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create;
for, behold, I create Jerusalem to be a delight,
and her people a joy.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
and the voice of weeping and the voice of crying
will be heard in her no more.

No more will there be an infant who only lives a few days,
nor an old man who has not filled his days;
for the child will die one hundred years old.
They will build houses and inhabit them.
They will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They will not build and another inhabit.
They will not plant and another eat:
for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree,
and my chosen will long enjoy the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain
nor give birth for calamity;
for they are the offspring of Yahweh’s blessed
and their descendants with them.
It will happen that before they call, I will answer;
and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together.
The lion will eat straw like the ox.
Dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,”
says Yahweh.

Isaiah 65:17-15

Consolation Series - Part 75 - Isaiah 62

For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her righteousness shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning lamp.
The nations will see your righteousness,
and all kings your glory.
You will be called by a new name,
which Yahweh’s mouth will name.
You will also be a crown of beauty in Yahweh’s hand,
and a royal diadem in your God’s hand.
You will not be called Forsaken any more,
nor will your land be called Desolate anymore;
but you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for Yahweh delights in you,
and your land will be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
so your sons will marry you.
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so your God will rejoice over you.

I have set watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem.
They will never be silent day nor night.
You who call on Yahweh, take no rest,
and give him no rest, until he establishes,
and until he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

Yahweh has sworn by his right hand,
and by the arm of his strength,
Surely, I will no more give your grain to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners will not drink your new wine, for which you have labored,
but those who have harvested it will eat it, and praise Yahweh.
Those who have gathered it will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.”

Go through, go through the gates!
Prepare the way of the people!
Build up, build up the highway!
Gather out the stones!
Lift up a banner for the peoples.
Behold, Yahweh has proclaimed to the end of the earth,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your salvation comes!
Behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him!’ ”
They will call them “The Holy People,
Yahweh’s Redeemed”.
You will be called “Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken”.

Isaiah 62

Consolation Series - Part 74 - Isaiah 61

The Lord Yahweh’s Spirit is on me,
because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good news to the humble.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to those who are bound,
to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion,
to give to them a garland for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,
that they may be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of Yahweh,
that he may be glorified.

They will rebuild the old ruins.
They will raise up the former devastated places.
They will repair the ruined cities
that have been devastated for many generations.
Strangers will stand and feed your flocks.
Foreigners will work your fields and your vineyards.
But you will be called Yahweh’s priests.
Men will call you the servants of our God.
Instead of your shame you will have double.
Instead of dishonor, they will rejoice in their portion.
Therefore, in their land they will possess double.
Everlasting joy will be to them.
“For I, Yahweh, love justice.
I will give them their reward in truth
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their offspring will be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge them,
that they are the offspring which Yahweh has blessed.”

I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh!
My soul will be joyful in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation.
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth produces its bud,
and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61