Wisdom for the (Whiny and) Aged

Romans 12:1-8 – The 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 24, 2014

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” (Romans 12:2)

I so enjoyed these words when Garrison Keillor shared them in one of his Lake Wobegon tales . . .

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Wait!

10502483-standardKeillor didn’t write them! They didn’t first appear in a Prairie Home Companion radio drama!

Of course Paul wrote this encouragement to the Christian community in Rome. Indeed, long before I heard Keillor’s tale, Roman 12:2 faithful challenge inspired and intimidated me. Nonetheless, whenever I read Paul’s cautionary insights about conforming, I also revisit a fictional time in Minnesota’s Lake Wobegon . . .

In the yarn Keillor spun, every youth in the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church’s confirmation class had to select a Bible verse that would be memorized and eventually read to the congregation. My fractured memory recalls that one boy chose John 11:35 . . . Jesus wept. Clever lad, since he only had to memorize two words. Another youth took Genesis 1:1, one of the most popular verses in the Bible: In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. Didn’t everyone know the Bible’s opening line? A young woman named Lois was either less smart or more adventurous than her fellow students when she selected Romans 12:2. Continue reading →

That Woman

Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28 – The 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, August 17, 2014

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27)

Christ and the Canaanite Woman - FLANDES  (c. 1500)
Christ and the Canaanite Woman – Flandes (c. 1500)

First, Jesus ignored the woman . . . But he did not answer her at all.

Then, Jesus claimed she wasn’t on his to-do list . . . I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Finally, Jesus insulted her . . . It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

The third time certainly wasn’t charming for the person known in Matthew as “the Canaanite woman.” According to Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, the One who would become the Christ, she apparently was no better than a wayward mongrel, scrabbling for discarded food.

Usually, when I read these unnerving and stark verses, I admire the courage of the Gospel writer to show Jesus in an unflattering light. I am enthralled with Jesus’s change of mind. For here, in the middle of Matthew, there was odd evidence that flamed doubt about Jesus being “perfect.” Here, readers witnessed Jesus not as fully divine and fully human, but far from divine and frustratingly human. How fascinating to debate what this meant (and means) about Jesus, whether we’re in seminary diligently studying for the ministry, pulpiteering in a church with far from divine and frustrating humans, or cornered by a grumpy agnostic at a garage sale.

How ‘bout that irksome, insulting, irritating Jesus!

And yet today, in this next reading of a familiar passage, I’m not much interested in Jesus and his heartlessness or in his change of heart.

It’s that woman. Continue reading →

On, By, Near, or Upon

Matthew 14:22-33 – The 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 10, 2014

“. . . and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30)

Jesus walked on water*.

Yes or no? Fact or fiction?

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

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

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’s miracle didn’t occur in a Wisconsin winter.

I recall a seminary professor who offhandedly pondered 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 was epi. (Epi begins the word epidermis, or on the skin.) 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 seminary professor mused, what if the sentence “Jesus walked on water” was translated instead, Jesus walked near water? Or by water?

Do you buy that? Continue reading →