Streaking Through Scripture

Ever have that sensation when you are coming home from the grocery store or the library or work or somewhere else familiar and you turn onto your street and suddenly wonder how you got there?

You were driving. You know in the far reaches of your conscious mind that you turned left at the shoe store that was able to progressively dye your satin pumps darker and darker shades of lavender during the “summer of weddings” just after college. And your intact tires testify that you successfully avoided the pothole that weekly creeps further and further into the travel lane from the shoulder in front of the park where your son fell off the climbing wall and knocked out his tooth when he was six. You know you did these things. You must have. You were at the grocery store or library or work just forty minutes ago and now you are driving past Mrs. Murphy’s freshly planted pansies, but you don’t remember a single minute of your drive home. Not this particular trip, anyway; just an amalgam of trips over the past days, weeks, months, years.

It happens with anything familiar – drives, chores, family stories. It also happens sitting in the pew on Sunday mornings.

Let’s look at this past Sunday. Palm Sunday.

  • Everyone is handed a palm frond or cross made from a palm frond (or both) as they enter the sanctuary.
  • The service will start with  a procession up the aisle, usually involving small children flapping large palm branches with no regard to objects or people in their reach while waving at their proud parents or looking down at their feet praying they can sit down soon.
  • This is followed by a reading of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem from one of the gospels.
  • And so on.

You know the routine.

So do I. We worked through this same routine in our own church (sans the small children… they were part of an earlier service). Everything followed in its course:

  • Palm fronds and crosses as we walked in? Check.
  • Procession? Check.
  • Gospel reading of triumphal entry including prayer in Gethsemane, ear being lobbed off, man running naked from Jesus’ accusers? Che…

My husband’s and my heads shot up at the same time. We looked at each other. Had we heard that right? We both began furiously flipping through our bulletins.

post photo

Yup. We’d heard it correctly.

When the heck was the streaker added to this story?! My husband grew up Baptist. I grew up Unitarian and Methodist. We’ve attended Orthodox Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church in America, and Anglican churches faithfully for the 24 years we’ve been married. We’ve spent time in campus ministry. My husband has served as a deacon. We’ve both taught Sunday School. Neither of us recalled this little tidbit. Must be an Episcopal thing, we surmised. It was the only logical explanation. That’s the danger when you do a dramatic reading/ paraphrase of the gospel story. Things get added. Things get weird.

We participated in the rest of the service. Left quietly. Turned and walked slowly down the street towards our car. As soon as we were out of sight of the church, my husband and I exclaimed,

“What was that?”

“You heard it too?”

“What?!”

Then we did what any good 21st century American Christian does when confronted with a theological question: we pulled out our phones, took them out of airplane mode, and googled.

Wanna guess what we found?

They all left him, and fled. A certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth thrown around himself over his naked body. The young men grabbed him, but he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked. – Mark 14:50-42, WEB

The reading was taken practically verbatim from the Gospel According To Mark!

How have we missed it all these years? You’d think a little tidbit like that would stick with you.

And even more perplexing to me is why Mark thought to include this detail in his gospel. None of the other gospel writers included it. Is it central to the story? Is it a final reminder that Jesus numbered the poor among his followers? Is it to show that Jesus was utterly alone? That even the poorest of the poor abandoned Jesus at his time of trial? That running through the streets naked was preferable to being associated with Jesus?

 

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St. John The… Racist?

womanwell2In chapter 4 of the Gospel According to John, we read the story of Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. In verse 9, the story is interrupted by a parenthetical statement that appears to have been inserted by the author to clarify the story for the reader.

 

The Samaritan woman said to him [Jesus], “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) NRSV

 

Jews and Samaritans share a common heritage. They are both descendants of Israel (Jacob) with the Samaritans being descended from Jacob’s most beloved son, Joseph. This fact alone should explain some of the animosity towards the Samaritans and the rest of Israel’s descendants, but the schism was deepened during the time of the division of God’s people into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Assyrian conquest, and the Babylonian captivity. The Jews of the southern kingdom kept themselves monotheistic and otherwise set-apart from their Babylonian captors while in exile. The Samaritans, meanwhile, co-existed with their invaders, intermarried, and adopted some of their gods and religious customs. When the two groups reunited… there was tension, to say the least.

At the time the story related in John takes place, the biggest disagreement between the Jews and Samaritans is where they should worship God… on the mountain in Samaria (where the well is located) or in Jerusalem. (John 4:19) This centuries old conflict meant that Jews may do business with Samaritans (the disciples did go to buy food in the Samaritan town, after all – John 4:8) but they did not speak to them outside of business transactions and they certainly did not drink from the same water pitcher.

And that got me thinking…

 

“Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.”

Like water pitchers.

Or water fountains.

Or lunch counters.

Or churches.

 

But isn’t that the reason Jesus is talking to this woman? This Samaritan woman? This Samaritan woman? The reason he is asking her for water? Water from her pitcher?  Water taken from Jacob’s well? Jacob, ancestor of the Jews. The same Jacob who is the ancestor to the Samaritans. The Jacob who makes them kin.

 

Why would Jesus do this?

Could it be the same reason why Dr. Martin Luther King marched in Birmingham? Because injustice was there. And because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Could it be the same reason why Desmond Tutu, in his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, asked blacks and whites to look each other in the eye and say,”You are a God-bearer?” Because we are all made in the image of God and deserve the dignity of that truth.

Could it be because she was seeking him (“I know that Messiah comes, he who is called Christ. When he has come, he will declare to us all things.” – 4:25)? Because Jesus tells us that “he who seeks finds.” (Matthew 7:8)

 

Jesus’ approaching the Samaritan woman is the incarnation of Isaiah’s prophesy of a reunified Israel:

It shall happen in the latter days, that the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it.
Many peoples shall go and say,
‘Come let’s go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
and he will teach us of his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.’
For the law shall go out of Zion,
and Yahweh’s word from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations,
and will decide concerning many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:2-4; emphasis mine)

So my question is this: If Jesus made the concerted effort to demonstrate acceptance of and reunification with the Samaritans (both in this instance and in others, such as the healing of the lepers or the parable of the good Samaritan), then why does the writer of John’s gospel (probably written 70 years, give or take – that’s about three generations) insist on adding the parenthetical? In the present tense? Not “Jews did not share…” but “Jews do not share…”.

 

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*this post is based on a Lectio divina/ Ignatian meditation I completed at this year’s Lenten Retreat at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-By-The-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida, March 3, 2018; led by Rachel Held Evans

 

Creation & Identity

In the first five and a half chapters of the Gospel of Mark, we see a Jesus who is constantly on the move. He is traveling from town to town near the Sea of Galilee teaching, healing, performing exorcisms, attracting followers, and recruiting and training disciples. And it’s not just constant movement, it’s urgent movement from Jesus and those around him. From Mark 1:1 to Mark 6:45 the word “immediately” (WEB is used 21 times! (Anyone else hearing the Hamilton soundtrack in their head? “Non-stop!”) It’s no wonder Jesus sneaks off by himself occasionally (Mark 1:35) or keeps a boat handy so as not to be crushed by the crowds on shore (Mark 3:9; 4:1).

After the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus “immediately” sends his disciples across the sea in a boat so that they can get some rest while he personally dismisses the crowd of followers then heads up a nearby mountain alone to pray (Mark 6:45). The account continues:

When evening had come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. Seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the forth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea, and he would have passed by them, but they, when they saw him walking on the sea, supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were troubled. But he immediately spoke with them, and said to them, “Cheer up! It is I! Don’t be afraid.’ He got into the boat with them; and the wind ceased, and they were very amazed among themselves, and marveled.  Mark 6:47-51

When I was reading this passage recently, three images raced through my mind:

  • Jesus walking through a chaotic sea and declaring, “I am!” (some translations use the literal translation of the phrase ἐγώ εἰμι here, “I am,” while others use “It is I”) causing order to be restored to the sea
  • the voice of God declaring to Moses “I am who I AM!” from the dancing light of the burning bush  (Exodus 3: 14)
  • a watery, tumultuous chaos being breathed into order with a voice (Genesis 1:2-3)

 

In addition to his direct references to the Hebrew Scriptures (“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth.'” Matthew 4:4 referencing Deuteronomy 8:3 or “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.'” Mark 7:10 referencing Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:15, Exodus 21:17, and Leviticus 20:9, for example), Jesus is prolific in demonstrative allusions (for example, when Jesus feeds the 5000 in Mark 6, he has the people sit in groups of hundreds and fifties – reminiscent of when Moses organized the leadership structure of Israel by setting capable men as “officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” in Exodus 18:25; or when Jesus chose twelve disciples in Mark 3:14-19 – twelve tribes of Israel, anyone?).

So, could Jesus be making a physical allusion here to the creation story in Genesis 1? Could he be trying to bring to the minds of his disciples the watery chaos ordered by the breath and words of God? Or the voice calling out of a burning bush “I am”? Or maybe both?

We know that later in Jesus’ story the simple act of breaking bread at the dinner table awakens the recognition of who he truly is when his words and teachings failed to reach the heart of Cleopas and his travelling companion (Luke 24: 13-35), so it is not out of character for Jesus to use such methods.

Jesus often brings the minds of his disciples back to the Hebrew Scriptures by asking them to remember a law or teaching or story. It appears that, sometimes, he shows rather than tells.

 

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