February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Lord’s Prayer. And the enigmatic phrase related to “daily bread”. Enigmatic because the prayer uses a word for “bread” which apparently was so little used in Greek (and nobody knows the presumed Aramaic equivalent used by Jesus) – that now nobody knows exactly how to interpret that part of a prayer so well known to all of us.
So, here goes… Based on the petition for bread from the Lord’s Prayer – as the theme of bread resonates across Matthew’s Gospel – and possibly dovetails with another theme close to my heart – that of God’s Rest. (I’m thinking of the beloved quote: “Come to me all you… and I will give you rest.”) Let me anticipate by adding that another title for this post might have been: Jesus – Source of Sabbath Rest.
Let’s start with the first reference to “bread” in Matthew’s Gospel. Maybe this will surprise you: “Jesus was born in Bethlehem…” Bethlehem means House of Bread. Now, recall that only two gospels provide information on Christ’s birth… but in two different locations. So if Matthew states he was born in Bethlehem, should we see meaning in that? You can choose not to, but I’m going to entertain the idea that Matthew (or his tradition) had reason to flag House of Bread as the earthly origin of Emmanuel (God with us) .
Doesn’t that just start your neurons tingling???
Moving right along… Our next meeting with the word bread comes in the desert when the Tempter says to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Once again, two gospels (the same two) reference such a temptation. Luke words it slightly differently and has Jesus answer only that “one does not live by bread alone” while Matthew extends that by adding “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” And Matthew also tells us that Jesus is quoting scripture when he uses that reply – in a quote from Deuteronomy:
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Wow! Now we’ve got humility, hunger, and a mysterious kind of feeding – from the Lord’s mouth to ours. Word = Bread. Bread of Life. Word of Life. And a connection to the Torah, specifically to the book which constitutes Moses relaying God’s teachings – akin to Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount – a teaching centered around the Lord’s Prayer. Which is itself centered around the request for bread.
And if we look closely at the Sermon on the Mount, we find it bracketed at its beginning and end by allusions to bread: a reference to “hungering and thirsting” smack in the middle of the Beatitudes which begin the Sermon in Chapter 5; and the command in Chapter 7 to “ask… search… knock” with the promise that “the door will be opened” – illustrated by the very image of a child asking for bread and God’s gifts being akin to a parent granting her child’s request. So we again have a connection with bread – as the image of God’s goodness and graciousness, blessing us for hungering and thirsting (for righteousness/justice, etc.), where prayer and action on behalf of the Kingdom are somehow linked in meaning with images of “word” and “bread”. To stretch the image even further, one could imagine the kneading of dough – water and wheat, salt and yeast – as putting the Sermon into practice, following the recipe, so to speak. Prayer and the Holy Spirit – being perhaps the condition of dough becoming bread. (Ok, yes, it’s a stretch – but this is meditation, not a proof!)
I could practically rest my case here. But indulge me a bit longer…
Scripture is so rich! As I’ve said before, it’s like a symphony, a harmonic whole, conversing with itself.
So now we take what may appear to be a bit of side trip, where I’m going to present a quote and then comment upon its placement, because it’s the placement, I think, that will help us connect this quote with the theme of bread that I’ve been following. Like a trail of breadcrumbs… here’s the next bit:
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Now rest concerns the Sabbath. (God rested on the 7th day.) And immediately following Jesus invitation to take his yoke (recall that Yoke for a Jew suggests the Yoke of the Torah = God’s Teaching, his Word of Life)… Immediately (!) we have a story where Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And Matthew has Jesus justify his disciples’ plucking heads of grain and eating them by reminding the Pharisees that David and his men, when hungry “entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence.” Among other important things, Jesus also tells them (us): “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
Wow! Lord of the Sabbath! Immediately following the promise of rest – if we will just take his yoke, learn from him, God-with-us, “gentle and humble of heart.” And Matthew soon provides this wonderful quote from Isaiah:
‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break a bruised reed
or quench a smouldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope.’
So many allusions in that quote. Reminds us of the recent Baptism story (just before the desert fasting and temptations), the Gospel message – even to the Gentiles – and the gentle invitation to us all in the quote promising rest, that Jesus’ yoke is one that “will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick…”
But let’s back up just a minute. For I’ve given you part of the context for the quote promising rest (which is what follows in the Sabbath story). But I need to provide what exactly precedes the invitation, which is a quote more reminiscent of John’s Gospel than of Matthew’s. A quote which appears in John’s Gospel at the Last Supper (umm…. think bread!) just prior to the footwashing (an action which stands, in John’s Gospel, where the Eucharistic event is recalled by the synoptics). I’m going to give the whole of the quote, for its seems to be part of a prayer – but I will flag in bold the words which most interest me (and match those prior to the footwashing):
At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Followed by “Come to me…. and I will give you rest.” Rest… the Sabbath. Given by God as a time and a commandment. Now entrusted to Jesus, who offers us both companionship and rest.
Ok, I know this is getting really long. Long story short: Matthew’s Gospel offers two miraculous feedings. Should we take special note of that? Yes! One in Chapter 14. Another in Chapter 15. Smack in the middle of this Gospel. Both in the context of crowds who’ve come out to listen to his teaching, to follow this man whose words and deeds are so powerful. Unlike John there is no lengthy mystical preaching on Jesus as the Bread of Life. But we know that already: Jesus comes from Bethlehem; he offers God’s rest (with all its biblical implications of wholeness, healing, eternal Life).
Finally, as we all know, Jesus, at the Last Supper, identifies himself with bread that has been blessed and broken to feed his disciples.
I end with a reference to the monastic view of reading and internalizing scripture. There is an image of meditating upon it as one would chew bread. Ruminating. (Think of a cow chewing its cud.)
There’s a huge amount of commentary on whether the Lord’s Prayer asks only for physical bread. There’s nothing wrong, of course, in praying the prayer that way. But somehow I’m not convinced, that Matthew wants to limit our understanding of the prayer that way. Bread is just too rich a symbol. To waste. S0 … Go for the mystical!
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!
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.
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 prophets, so 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.
July 9, 2012 § 3 Comments
Scripture is like a symphony. One does not listen to just one note or one measure or one chord or one theme. Scripture vibrates and resonates. There are echoes one can hear. One musical instrument answering another. Or questioning. Cymbals clashing. Silences. Conversations. The sounds of water. Of trees rustling. If you listen closely. If you read with heart tuned. Scripture arose through such a process. And it remains alive for those who steep themselves (in it) as one steeps tea.
This morning I was reading Psalm 39 (40) – depending upon how one counts the psalms. And I heard it speaking, not just to me, but to the end of John’s Gospel. Or you could say I understood that the end of John’s Gospel was like an echo/commentary on verses of that psalm. And hearing the melody gave me new insight into what the writer of John was doing. For when one hears such a melody it is like a cue to await further reverberations hidden in both texts.
Origin was a master at this way of reading scripture. Like someone weaving an exquisite tapestry, he moves back and forth throughout the entire Bible – using vibrant colored threads to create images and metaphors as he brings to life a text – through other texts. He is both breathtaking and charming. And I’ve only just begun to drink deeply at the wells he’s opened up, whose waters have seeped into much of spiritual and theological writing (in spite of his being martyred as a heretic).
But I digress…
Let’s start with the end of John’s Gospel. Which is probably familiar to many. Its final verse [John 21:25] reads:
But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
And now listen to this verse from Psalm 40 (Grail Version):
6 How many, O LORD my God,
are the wonders and designs
that you have worked for us;
you have no equal.
Should I wish to proclaim or speak of them,
they would be more than I can tell!
Now, whether or not this is the real ending to John is not our concern here. But this resonance between the Old and New Testaments, between prayer (the psalm) and announcing the Good News (the Gospel) is just one example of what occurs all over the place in scripture. It is exactly the method the resurrected Christ taught the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. A method clearly understood and practiced by Origin.
John’s Gospel can usefully be read as a call to decision. As a witness to events, which prompts a response. Indeed its penultimate verse hints at a community which seems to endorse the Gospel writer as: “the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” A community of converts one has to assume. Perhaps even a community whose members might have experienced conversion in the manner of psalm 40 [NRSV]:
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.’
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
11 Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
12 For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
who desire my hurt.
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, ‘Aha, Aha!’
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.
I hope perhaps this psalm may be your guide to a closer reading of John’s Gospel (and its impact on you). Just as Luke’s story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (and their subsequent carrying of Jesus’ message back to Jerusalem) resonates – like an opening theme or interpretive key – for the Gospel it immediately precedes. Opening our eyes to the fact that nothing in scripture stands by itself.
This is just one tiny example of the power of the Divine Symphony which plays in Scripture. And of which we ourselves are a part. We too are words spoken by our Creator. Notes in the cosmic symphony. Like musical instruments awaiting the Spirit’s breath to come to life. Exactly as the psalmist did in the words above.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
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…
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 Law. Reminder of our share in his priesthood.
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?
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: Come. Rest. Mercy 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.
14He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
There’s so much here. This is enough for now.