A Ruler Who Is To Shepherd

January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

God is a Verb:  “A ruler who is to Shepherd.”  This, I think, is a crucial meaning of Christ’s proclamation:  “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

God is not a Taskmaster, sitting on the sidelines, ready to dole out standards or exact vengeance – even if sometimes scripture might appear to point this way.  We humans, at times trapped more in our childhood issues than steeped in the Gospel, are in constant need of pruning when it comes to such images of God.

Last week the words in the title above leaped out at me.  They come from the second chapter of Matthew in a quote which is a composite from several verses in Micah – a prophecy about the Messiah.

I had a flood of allusions.  A blog I wrote a while back about a true shepherd.  The connection with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God or God’s Rule, as it is sometimes translated.  The Loving Kindness of our God – Imaged in Jesus:  Someone who comes among us as both Lamb of God and Shepherd – with all the exquisite images of protecting, feeding, leading, watching out for, rescuing, healing which Micah describes so eloquently.  God as a Verb – creating, speaking, ever seeking, acting.  Always Reaching Out – in Love.  Finally sending his Son to show us what our dense minds refuse to believe or trust.

Why is it so hard for us?

Well, the blessing is that Jesus knows this too:  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Our Shepherd knows the experience of a lamb – at a time of ultimate trial.  Just like our own experience – in times of trouble, confusion, anguish, anxiety, hurt, anger – all those negative emotions trapping us inside our own heads, leading us to forget that – even if trapped – our Shepherd is with us – God is with us – “as a Mother cannot forget her child”.

So when we come upon all those authors, including Matthew, who urge us to discipline (abandon) ourselves, and be docile, obedient servants, we mustn’t lose sight of what even Matthew reminds us in his second chapter:  The Rule of God entails a Mystery.  A Ruler who is To Shepherd and a Shepherd who is simultaneously God’s Lamb.  The Spirit testifies to this.

Holy Mystery.  Mind-blowing!

Forgiveness – the Heart of Mercy

November 29, 2013 § 2 Comments

Mercy.  Forgiveness.  When Jesus went around Galilee – healing and preaching – one of the things we see him doing over and over is telling people:  Your sins are forgiven.

This came home to me a few weeks back, when I was reading the selections for one day’s liturgy.  First there was a selection from Paul (Romans 15:14-21), next a parable from Luke (16:1-8).  And I heard the words in a new way, a way which pertains to what I’ve been reaching towards in this blog (related to priesthood) as well as in my Nothingness blog (related to writing down my Soul in a sense).

Now, I’m going to quote Paul’s words but using two translations because I’ve done a lot of thinking about this and consulted various translation and commentaries, together with just treasuring these things in my heart for a bit.  Till they ripened.

So here are Paul’s words as they struck me (in bold) – in relation to the parable and to my own experience of Holy Mystery:

I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.  But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus in the priestly service of the Gospel of God for I will not speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me by the power of the Spirit of God.

Now, please forgive me.  But I hear those words as if spoken through me – for you.  And also to all of us for each of us.  Our goodness.  Our ability to instruct one another.  Our (baptismal) priestly call to service.  On behalf of the Gospel.  And the fact that the Holy Spirit is working through each of us – for all of us – as ministers of Christ Jesus.  That we too are called.  Just as Paul was called.  Out of our daily lives.  Out of our limitations and waywardness.  To hear the Gospel anew.  And to serve it – as if we were servants bearing the food of the Word to a hungry world.

And what does the Gospel say – for that day in the Lectionary?   What is the Gospel, in other words, that we are to spread?  (Assuming we are in touch with God’s own Power in our lives – that we have experienced the healing touch of God’s undeserved Mercy.  Which is, in a sense, how I read Paul’s words – as if the Holy Spirit is speaking them from within my heart.)

The Gospel Parable is one that has always been a mystery to me.  Till now.  It tells of the Steward squandering his Master’s property.  That’s us, of course.  And the threat of judgment, of being dismissed.  Thrown out of the Kingdom.  Which, God, in my own experience (now I’m speaking the Gospel as delivered to me in my own life) does not want to do.  OK, the threat is there.  We find it in the Gospel.  Throughout the Bible.  But the even stronger message (as delivered to me) is the never-ending, undeserved, unlooked-for (because undeserving – I think TS Eliot said something like that) MERCY of Divine Love.

And by the way, this is clearly what Pope Francis is getting at.  Over and over.  Through word and deed.  And particularly in his most recent (and truly wonderful) apostolic exhortation:  The Joy of the Gospel.  (The link provides for a pdf download.)  Where Francis makes it clear that indeed this joy is for all of us – to spread.

And what are we to spread?  I honestly think that the “unjust” Steward, as he is sometimes called, turned to forgiveness.  And we know that “forgiveness of debts” is part of the Our Father.  And while it could mean actual objects of money, if we consider Jesus, who so often forgave sins even before he healed physical woes, then what are called to do?  But to do as Jesus did.  To go around offering Mercy.  To all.

Not just to forgive those who have personally hurt us.  But to extend Mercy and Forgiveness on a general basis.  To all those, in particular, who are hurting, who are laboring under burdens.  To lift those psychological burdens and spiritual burdens and physical burdens.  Simply to go around – even in the quietness of our daily lives – extending that Love in ways big and small.  To preach the Gospel – at all times.  “If necessary with words.”  (St. Francis said – and Pope Francis does and says.)

Go.  And do likewise.

“Go Francis, and repair my house.”

March 14, 2013 § 8 Comments

Long ago I had a dream.  It was some time after we moved away from a spiritual home, a contemplative Benedictine monastery.  I was bereft.  Challenged – in my new work of learning psychotherapy.  In the dream I was faced with a ruined monastery, a pasture strewn with weathered stones.  Which I felt compelled to somehow rebuild.  Stone by stone.  It was an impossible task. But there it was!

I am reminded of this dream by the election of a new Pope, who has chosen the name, Francis, and by words spoken to his namesake, while praying:

Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.

Having pondered these words, in the light of the crisis currently gripping the church of Rome, I cannot but consider all their portent as a key to what this new Pope faces and must try to tackle.  Like my dream, admittedly, an impossible task.  This post is an effort to ponder a bit, in the light of scripture, the meaning of those words:  Repair my house.

House, as a concept, is rich in meaning throughout the entire Bible.  In addition to a specific dwelling, house in the Hebrew Bible often refers to a lineage or an entire people.  It’s a common figure of speech, where a “part” stands for the “whole”.  So, for example, the House of Israel, which can stand for the lineage of Jacob, given the name Israel after his encounter with God.  Or House of Israel can stand for the entire Jewish nation as we see over and over, for example in these psalm verses:

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.                                 [Psalm 98.3]

The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron;            [Psalm 115.12]

O house of Israel, bless the Lord!
O house of Aaron, bless the Lord!         [Psalm 135.19]

There is another meaning for house in the Bible.  It can stand for the dwelling of the Holy One.  And along with that there is a strong admonition that no man can build such a house, without the express direction of YHWH, the Holy One.  There is a long story about this in the Book of Samuel and you can find a pretty good explanation of it here.  The long and short of it is found once again in a Psalm:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.

St. Francis would have been aware of this admonition.  Pope Francis, as well.  But there is another, perhaps even more important, aspect to the story from Second Samuel, which concerns a prophecy, one which bears on the use of the term house in the New Testament:

12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

Christ identified himself with the Temple in Jerusalem, which is another way of saying that Jesus is the true dwelling of YHWH, the very residence of God’s Glory.  Revealer of God’s word and will.  Capable of imparting Divine Life to willing souls.  And Paul took up this image for the ecclesia, the assembly of Christians, which we now term, the church.

Thus, if you are following along here, there is a progression from the concrete (an actual house, an actual lineage or people, an actual Temple) to a metaphor, which is a Spiritual Reality, the assembled People of God, which constitutes the Living Christ, the Divine Life (of promise) embodied in each and all of us.  Assuming that we allow ourselves to be built, fashioned, in the Divine Image.  This is the mystical understanding of John’s Gospel and of many passages in Paul’s letters.  It is not a work we can do on our own, any more than David could build a house for the Lord on his own.

This requires Divine initiative.  A calling.  And humble response.

Now I am no prophet nor seer.  But it does not take a lightening strike to see the state of crisis in the church of Rome.  And it doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to interpret the name “Francis” and the choice of that name by a humble, newly elected Pope, faced with a church falling into ruins – to come up with an accurate interpretation – for our day – of words (and a calling!) first given to St. Francis, and now inherited by Pope Francis:

“Go Francis, and repair my house … falling into ruin.”

Pondering the Perplexing Personality of Paul

January 19, 2013 § 2 Comments

I’ll confess from the outset:  For a long time, I had trouble appreciating St. Paul.  Eventually I came to really treasure Paul’s mystical side, his lyrical, poetic passages and prayers.   But even then, Preachy Paul, who could be something of a scold, sorely tried my patience. 

I am no scholar of Paul.  Nor am I any kind of expert on scripture.  But lately I’ve gained some compassion for Paul’s tendency to be judgmental and scolding. How or why this change of perspective on Paul came about I can’t explain.  It’s a good feeling when God changes your heart.  And that’s what this feels like.

God’s mercy is never-ending.  And it often comes when (and how) we least expect it.  Even at times when we may least deserve it.  I can attest to that – from my own experience.  And Paul is a perfect example!

This Mercy of God, so Undeserved, so Relentless in its pursuit of people.  Well, to me it’s one of the greatest proofs of God’s unique care for each of us, God’s stunning willingness to upend things and prod us to rethink and change direction.

So I think of Paul.  A scholar of Jewish law.  A zealot, by his own admission.  A party to persecution.  A witness to martyrdom.  A tent-maker.  A man who kept the Commandments.  Was zealous about prayer, scrupulous about performing the duties of a pious Jew.  And who, for a time, felt deputized to scour the countryside in search  of wayward Jews… new followers of a strange prophet, who’d been crucified and was rumored to have been raised from the dead.

We know very little about Paul before his conversion.  But from the little we know, we have to assume, I think, that he was a passionate man.  That he had a passion for God.  A passion for Torah.  A passion to take matters into his own hands?  It would appear so.  A bit prideful?  That too.  Hasty at times?  He was definitely a man on a mission.   Judgmental?  Yes, indeedy!

Now we know even less about God’s choice of Paul.  But from the disciples Jesus chose, we can make some assumptions.  We can think of Moses and Abraham and Jacob – all chosen as well.  We can think of prophetsso many of whom tried to decline the Divine intervention in their lives, viewing themselves as sinful or not up to the task.

But Paul is unique in a sense.  An intellectual.  A zealot on a self-chosen mission.  A man versed in Torah.  Venerating Torah.  So dedicated to Torah he was willing to exterminate those he viewed as veering off the Torah path.  But a man who turned on a dime, so to speak.  Becoming one with those he was persecuting.  Because Jesus’ appearance, especially his words – “Why are you persecuting me?” – made it clear that Jesus was ONE with them.

It seems to me that Paul’s mystical side relates especially to this encounter with Jesus.  To the moment when his whole life was turned inside out and upside down.  When Holy Mystery took hold of him and, suddenly, he knew this Mystery – to be the Risen Christ.  And his judgmental side?  I wonder if that is the thorn in his flesh, which bothered (and humbled) him.  We all have these limitations.  Yet God pursues us and bids us welcome… nonetheless.  I find that very comforting.

Lord of the Sabbath

May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

What is this REST that Jesus offers?

When Jesus declares:  “and I will give you Rest” the Jews of his time would have heard echoes of Genesis and Exodus.  The Sabbath Rest.  The Promise of Rest.  Wholeness and healing.  Safety and security.  Absence of oppression.  A Merciful Heart ~ like His.

And note that just prior to this offer to all of us, Matthew’s gospel has Jesus declare that God has placed everything in his hands:

27All things have been handed over to me by my Father…

See Matthew 11: 25-30

And this quote is significant.  For it links with John’s Gospel:

And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

Note the similarities in both Gospels at this point.  We have Jesus declaring his indwelling union with the Father, which includes a “handing over” of everything and a tender care for everyone.  A gift of self.  A share in Divinity.  For it not only relates to Christ’s Lordship over everything, but in both places its context is one of Christ’s humility, his desire to share His LIFE with us.  His self-emptying servanthood, meant to teach us to do the same.

So when Jesus says to us:  “Come to me… take my yoke…”  he not not only offers to join us to himself,  but he thereby asks that we too become “callers” and “carriers” – people who offer ourselves, who offer to share the burdens and the suffering of others.  To bring wholeness and healing, Sabbath Rest, to a broken world.

Indeed, immediately following this in-gathering Call in Matthew’s Gospel, Christ explicitly declares himself Lord of the Sabbath:

12At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’

Lord of the Sabbath – another Name of God that Jesus shares with the Father.  But there is more in those words above.  For Jesus, in declaring that the priests are above the sabbath (that they can “break” the law of the sabbath), is reminding us of our own priesthood.  The priesthood of our Baptism.  

Sabbath.  Rest.  Liberation from the LawReminder of our share in his priesthood.

“And I will give you Rest”

May 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

Do you have one quote from Scripture that has stayed with you for decades?  Something you’ve pondered deeply?  Which runs, like a refrain, through your life?  Lives within you?

Here’s mine:

28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

(from Matthew 11: 25-30)

Now the link above actually gives you both the quote and its the foregoing context.  (A context that links to the foot-washing in John 13.)  But from my childhood, when I first heard the words, nearly 60 years ago, the “come to me” has resonated so deeply.  And through the years individual words and phrases, ones you find all over the Bible, these too, I’ve pondered again and again:  ComeRestMercy in a gentle, caring God.  Offering peace and rest.  A personal call.  The sense of mission – which actually scared me as a child of 8 or 9.  (What would God ask of me?)

I love that quote.

But now I know more.  Now I see that Jesus is revealing Divinity.  And sharing it.  Offering a share in Himself.   Offering more than YHWH offers Moses:

14He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’

(Exodus 33:14)

Presence.  Rest.  Indwelling.  The spiritual reality we are given at Baptism.  The summit of our spiritual journey – if we live into it.

There’s so much here.  This is enough for now.

“Presence” and “Spiritual Priesthood”

October 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the first holy man I ever heard, a man whose words and presence have never left me, has been described thus:

He was blessed with a gift which few men possess: the marvel of presence. He did not have to speak to communicate his faith, his convictions, his nobility. His very presence communicated a vision. His outwardness conveyed something of his indwelling greatness. His very being radiated a sacred meaning.

The same could be said of the Dalai Lama, another holy man from whom it was my privilege to receive the gift of Presence.

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