In the Safety of the Crowd

nsama paintingOnce—but only once—I preached on Palm Sunday and tried to be funny.

Note the word “tried.”

How interesting, I mused in the sermon, that in Matthew (but not in John, Mark, or Luke) Jesus entered Jerusalem simultaneously riding two animals? I embellished the moment with words and gestures, attempting to help people visualize Matthew 21:6:

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.

There you go. He sat on “them.” Mark and Luke only have a colt. John, hedging a bit, claimed it was a donkey’s colt. But that’s still singular! Why did Matthew’s author seem to have Jesus straddling two different animals? An easy answer was Matthew viewed Jesus’ life as the fulfillment of Jewish prophesies. One of those “predictions” came from Zechariah. If you read Zechariah 9:9, with its longing for the coming of a humble king, you’ll run across a reference to . . . one animal. But Matthew, interpreting that ancient verse, conveys it so literally that it’s as if Jesus rode multiple mounts. Continue reading →

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Fragrance of Faith

Fig tree
…figs just plucked from the tree…

Take a breath and smell this . . .

Fresh-mowed grass.

Bread baked in an oven.

A skunk in your neighborhood.

A rotten egg, diesel engine, or spoiled milk.

A puppy’s breath, orange blossoms, or a Christmas tree.

*          *          *

There was that time when Jesus ate dinner at Lazarus’ home. What if they’d shared fresh baked bread, grilled lamb, figs just plucked from the tree, and pomegranates with red, sweet juice dribbling down chins? Can you smell the feast?

Were any doors and windows open? Did a gust of wind deliver the aroma of a nearby orchard? Were flowers blooming by the entry? Had Lazarus’ neighbor spent the day pressing new oil from harvested olives? Do you feast in the smells?

Jesus’ disciples crowded into the room. Judas fingered the bag of coins. Peter longed for his family. Thomas ate too much. Matthew told a convoluted story about a tax dodger from Galilee. All of them were road weary and sweat-stained. They couldn’t recall their last bath. Continue reading →

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The Fifth Voice

RembrandtPlease complete the quiz below on Jesus’ familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son.

(ALERT: this is not an open book test. Keep Bibles Closed. Only give answers based on prior reading or your random, desperate guesses.)

1. Circle how many characters speak in the parable:

1     2      3      4      5

2. Where is this Parable found (check all that apply):

___ John’s Gospel

___ In other families

___ Luke’s Gospel

___ Only way back then

___ Mark’s Gospel

___ In my family

___ Matthew’s Gospel

3. Though known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a better title for this story might be: (choose one answer)

___ The Dysfunctional Family

___ Don’t Judge Me Until You Walk A Mile in My First Century Sandals

___ Unforgiving Jerk of An Older Son

___ (bonus point) Your title suggestion: _______________

*      *      *

In his insightful 2004 book The Four Things That Matter Most, hospice physician Ira Byock wrote, “I have long thought that the phrase dysfunctional family is redundant.” After reflecting on Jesus’ The Dysfunctional Family parable for the 4th Sunday of Lent, I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Byock. Continue reading →

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