Churlish Jesus

I’ve never heard my father shout or mutter a “four-letter word.”

Only once has he knowingly and intentionally “flipped-off” another in my presence. Though it happened when I was ten or twelve, it’s vivid for its startling uniqueness. He drove. I sat in the passenger seat. Along a Sacramento-area freeway, another driver swerved in front of our car. That abrupt act caused Dad to jerk his car into the next lane, speed past the offending driver, and then angle back into the lane, ahead of the other car. He raised his right hand and gave the classic middle-fingered gesture.

The 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 14, 2011

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 16:26)

Stunned me.

Didn’t think Dad knew what it meant. I knew because of friends who “flipped people off” in the schoolyard. Friends’ parents also did it, some with great frequency. So I knew right away what my father had done. And yet, how had he known?

As a kid, Dad was my hero...

My father became physically angry around me . . . once. Other than an occasional spanking—all of which I probably deserved—I was never hit, struck or harmed by Dad. Nada. Zilch. But there was that single time, during Christmas holidays, when we played at the dining room table with a new chess set. On our third or tenth game I checkmated him. He exploded with a roar and his hand swept across the board, knocking the remaining pieces across the table and onto the floor. We never played chess again. I still wonder what really bothered him on that day. Until his dementia in recent years, his anger rarely surfaced in my presence. Continue reading →

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I is for . . .

IN CONTROL

The Bible is chock-full of people who claim to be in control. In charge. In command. And do stupid things.

Two examples. Both are no-brainers . . .

King David. And let me add one name to help explain that being “in control” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for King Royally Stupid: Bathsheba. With Bathsheba, we read of David’s control—which soon included those fine human qualities of lust, deceit and selfishness—and every one of us, whether royal or a royal pain in the rear, can understand control’s devastating costs.

The ever-popular Peter can be a fine second example. While Jesus is dragged from the courts to the cross, Mr. Upon-This-Rock-I-Will-Build-My-Church is asked if he knows that guy from Nazareth who’s in trouble. And Peter, very much in control of the moment, says, ” __________.” I know you can fill in the blank.

How thankful I am that the Bible, with David and Peter as too-easy examples, reveals that reeling out of control is often where God is finally felt. Both fellows, the aging slayer of Goliath and the crusty old fisherman, have their worst moments followed by some of their best . . . once they give up a little control. Thanks be to God!

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A Preposition For You

Jesus walked on water.

Yes or no? Fact or fiction?

  1. It’s in the Bible, so it must be true Jesus performed miracles and could ignore the laws of nature. Therefore, Jesus strode across the lake.
  2. The believers who wrote the Gospels wanted to demonstrate Jesus’ superiority over Roman power. Therefore, Jesus’ water walk was a metaphoric response to imperial arrogance.
  3. People in Jesus’ day experienced the world differently. For example, a storm destroying crops could be God’s anger at a person/village. Therefore, it can’t be affirmed or denied Jesus performed miracles since he lived in a superstitious, pre-scientific era.

Which would you choose? Or what fourth explanation might you add to explain your faithful response to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ liquid stroll?

The 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 7, 2011

“. . . and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”

Walking on water’s not so hard during the right season. Give me a frozen stream or a snowy meadow and I’ll risk crossing to the other side. But Matthew’s story of Jesus’ miracle didn’t occur in a Wisconsin winter.

I recall a seminary professor who offhandedly wondered about the preposition in the sentence, “Jesus walked on water.” A preposition like “on” is a (says Merriam-Webster) “function word that typically combines with a noun phrase” to express a “modification.” Ah, a modifier! That which changes! In the original Greek, the word on in the Matthew 14:25 sentence is epi. (Epi is used in epidermis or epidemic.) And yet, if you check a Greek-English dictionary—a tome I’ve resisted opening when I stopped regularly preaching—you’ll find multiple meanings for the simple three-letter Greek preposition. Epi appears in sentences not only as “on,” but as “upon” or “near” or “by.” Therefore my long-ago seminary professor mused, what if the sentence “Jesus walked on water” was instead translated, “Jesus walked near water?” Or by water?

Do you buy that? Continue reading →

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