Category Archives: Sunday Bible readings

Background and “color commentary” on the Sunday Lectionary readings

“Unintended consequences” – and the search for Truth

The FSU Women’s first CWS title:  A recent example of the Law of unintended Consequences?

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Welcome to “read the Bible – expand your mind:”

This blog has four main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (See John 6:37.)  The second is that God wants us to live lives of abundance (See John 10:10.)   The third is that God wants us to do even greater miracles than Jesus.  (See John 14:12.) 

The fourth – and most overlooked – is the need to read the Bible with an open mind.  See Luke 24:45:  “Then He” – Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

And this thought ties them together:

The only way to live abundantly and do greater miracles than Jesus is – as noted – to read the Bible with an open mind.  For more, see the notes or – to expand your mind – see the Intro.

In the meantime:

I’m working on a new post on my “practice of religion.”  (My ritual sacrifice, if you will…)

That practice – obviously –  involves reading the Bible on a daily basis.  (Starting back in 1992.)  But it also involves my exercising seven hours a week, in an ongoing “search for the functional equivalent of Moses holding his hands up at Rephidim.”  Which is another way of saying Moses may well have been the first man to say “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”  (Or see God’s Favorite Team” – Part III” – with the image at right – for a fuller explanation of my ‘mystic quest.”)

Also – in my mind anyhow – that practice also recently helped FSU‘s Women’s softball team – seen celebrating at the top of the page – win their first-ever national championship.

I’ll be writing more on my Ritual Sacrifice in a later post, but for now:

Let’s focus on the Gospel lesson for todaySunday, June 10

That would be Mark 3:20-35, where Jesus was “accused by His family and by Teachers of the Law.”  First, His family accused Him of being  crazy.  (“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”)  Second, the so-called “teachers of the law” insisted that Jesus could only cast out demons because He was possessed by demons Himself.  (“He’s possessed by Satan…  That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.”)  

Which led to this judgment by Jesus, found in Mark 3:28-29:

“Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven;  they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

For a fuller commentary on that “eternal sin,” see Mark 3:29 Commentary (Bible Hub).  But – as one of my former priests once summarized – the concept behind this passage is pretty simple: “If you’re afraid you might have committed this ‘eternal sin,’ you probably haven’t.”

That’s another way of saying that if you insist that you’ve never sinned, you could be in big trouble.  Or that it’s only the sin you’re not aware of – or refuse to consider – that can really get you in trouble.  But in church this morning, during the sermon, I had another thought.  Mark 3:29 could be a classic example of Jesus applying Deuteronomy 19:16.

I explored that “Deut. 19:16” concept in “Trump-humping” – and Christians arguing with each other.  Posted last April 8, that post explored the idea of people making false accusations:

In other words, if I think – or say, perhaps with relish – that someone I don’t like is going to “roast in hell” and he’s not, then I’ve put myself in danger of roasting in hell.

(BTW:  The full cite would be Deuteronomy 19:16-19.  Which could really get a lot of people in trouble these days.)   So basically the so-called “teachers of the law” accused Jesus of being  “possessed by Satan, the prince of demons.”  Which in turn meant that they were liable to end up being punished as if they were in fact “possessed by Satan, the prince of demons.”

TimeWhich is not a pretty picture – or subject – to contemplate.  And this is my point:  Like Tom Cruise in the film A Few Good Men, all real and true Christians simply Want the Truth.  They want and need to find out things as they really are, mainly in their own self-interest.  As noted, the only real “unforgivable sin” is the one you’re not aware of.

For other relevant summaries, see The Truth of God – Bible Hub, and/or Truth – Wikipedia.  Then there’s John 14:6: Where “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”

Which brings us back to my theory that – since 1992 – my ongoing ritual sacrifice has helped some of my favorite teams, including but not limited to teams from FSU (Where I graduated law school in 1984.)  For starters, since 1992 the FSU football team has won three national championships.  Also, “my” Tampa Bay Bucs won a Super Bowl.  “My” Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup.  I got “my” L.A. Dodgers to Game 7 of last year’s World Series.

(Somehow I have to figure out how to get the Dodgers over the hump.)

This year I got “my” FSU basketball team to the Elite 8.  FSU’s Mike Martin became the winningest coach in college baseball history.  And of course the FSU Women’s Softball team won it’s first College World Series title.  The strange thing is that I was sorely disappointed when the FSU men’s baseball team got eliminated in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.  And that’s where the Law of unintended Consequences may have come in.  Or put another way:

God answers our prayers, but not always the way we expect.

So I prayed and “sacrificed” for the FSU men’s baseball team to win a national championship, only to have the Women’s softball team win their first national championship.

Which means this Eternal Search for Truth is an ongoing process.  Again, I hope to explore this process in future posts, but in the meantime I’ll go on following my own particular “practice of religion.”  For one thing, I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere.

For another thing:  So far the results haven’t been too bad…

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Like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, all true Christians simply “Want the Truth!”

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The upper image is courtesy of Florida State wins 1st softball national championship.  (News4Jax | Jacksonville, Florida News, Weather, Sports.)

Re “Unintended Consequences.”  The link is to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.  But see also Unintended consequences – Wikipedia, which distinguished an unexpected drawback and/or “perverse result” from an unexpected benefit, to wit:  “A positive unexpected benefit (also referred to as luckserendipity or a windfall),” as in the Florida State earns first Women’s College World Series title example.  (Of which more in a later post…)

Re:  It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”  The link is to On “God’s Favorite Team” – Part III.  See also Was Moses the first to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?”  (In my companion blog.)

Re;  My ritual sacrifice.  You could also call it a kind of “mystic quest,” if not a “canary in a coal mine” protocol:  “The phrase ‘living like a canary in a coal mine’ often refers to serving as a warning to others.  The actual canary had little control over its fate, but it continued to sing anyway.  In one sense, living this way indicates a willingness to experience life’s dangers without compromise.”

The “is truth dead” image is courtesy of Time Magazine Asks ‘Is Truth Dead?’ in Trump Era – TheWrap.

The lower image is courtesy of Tom Cruz I Want Truth – Image Results.  

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On another note, tomorrow – June 11 – is the Feast Day for Saint Barnabas:

The apostle and missionary was among Christ’s earliest followers and was responsible for welcoming St. Paul into the Church.  Though not one of the 12 apostles . . . he is traditionally regarded as one of the 72 disciples of Christ and [the] most respected man in the first century Church after the Apostles themselves.

 See On St. Barnabas, posted in June 2014, on this “Apostle of Second Chances.”

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has three main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37, with the addendum, “Anyone who comes to Him.”)  The second is that God wants us to live abundantly.  (John 10:10.)   The third is that we should do greater miracles than Jesus.  (John 14:12).    A fourth theme:  The only way to do all that is read the Bible with an open mind:

…closed-mindedness, or an unwillingness to consider new ideas, can result from the brain’s natural dislike for ambiguity.  According to this view, the brain has a “search and destroy” relationship with ambiguity and evidence contradictory to people’s current beliefs tends to make them uncomfortable…  Research confirms that belief-discrepant-closed-minded persons have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency

So in plain words, this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians.  They’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.”  But the Bible can offer so much more than their narrow reading can offer…   (Unless you want to stay a Bible buck private all your life…)

Now, about “Boot-camp Christians.”  See for example, Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”  The gist of that post is that starting the Bible is like Army Basic Training. You begin by “learning the fundamentals.”  But after boot camp, you move on to Advanced Individual Training.

Also, and as noted in “Buck private,” I’d previously said the theme of this blog was that if you really want to be all that you can be, you need to go on and explore the “mystical side of Bible reading.*”  

http://www.toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpgIn other words, exploring the mystical side of the Bible helps you “be all that you can be.”  See Slogans of the U.S. Army – Wikipedia, re: the recruiting slogan from 1980 to 2001.  The related image at left is courtesy of: “toywonders.com/productcart/pc/catalog/aw30.jpg.”

*  Re: “mystical.”  As originally used, mysticism “referred to the Biblical liturgical, spiritual, and contemplative dimensions of early and medieval Christianity.”  See Mysticism – Wikipedia, and the post On originalism.  (“That’s what the Bible was originally about!”)

For an explanation of the Daily Office – where “Dorscribe” came from – see What’s a DOR?

The Trinity – Jefferson’s “3-headed monster…”

Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).jpg

As smart a guy as Thomas Jefferson couldn’t understand the Doctrine of the Trinity

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pentecost copyLast Sunday, May 20, 2018 was the Day of Pentecost (illustrated at left by El Greco.)  It’s also called Whitsunday.  This Sunday, May 27, was the First Sunday after Pentecost It’s also known as Trinity Sunday.

There’s more on the Trinity below – along with the “Three-headed Monster” – but first:  For more information on May 20 and Pentecost, see Ascension Day and Pentecost – 2016Mary’s Visitation – and Pentecost – 2017, and Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!”

Before the events of the first Pentecost … there were followers of Jesus, but no movement that could be meaningfully called “the church.”  Thus … Pentecost is the day on which the church was started.  This is also true from a spiritual perspective, since the Spirit brings the church into existence and enlivens it.  Thus Pentecost is the church’s birthday.

Pentecost also marked a big change in the idea of “Ministry.”  In the Old Testament, “the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings.”  But starting with Pentecost, God recruited “all different sorts of people for ministry.”  That is, the Holy Spirit – the spirit of ministry – now became available to anyone and everyone:  “All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position.”

Thus the first Pentecost was indeed a “momentous, watershed event.”

Incidentally, the word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek for “the 50th day,” and it’s always celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday.  (That’s “seven weeks plus one day.”) 

For more information on May 27, 2018, see On Trinity Sunday, 2015, and On Trinity Sunday (2016) – and more!  For starters, Trinity Sunday is always the Sunday after Pentecost, and  celebrates the idea of the three Persons of God:  Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:

Trinity Sunday … is one of the few celebrations of the Christian Year that commemorates a reality and doctrine rather than a person or event…   The Trinity is one of the most fascinating – and controversial – Christian dogmas.  The Trinity is a mystery.  By mystery the Church does not mean a riddle, but rather the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension that we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol, and faith.  It has been said that [this] mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim.

(Emphasis added.)  In other words, the Trinity as a concept is so difficult to understand that even a smart guy like Thomas Jefferson couldn’t do it.  But while Jefferson referred to the Doctrine of the Trinity as a “Three-headed Monster,” I prefer the metaphor of “an ocean in which to swim.”  (For a long, long time – and ultimately the rest of your Christian pilgrimage on this earth.)

It also seems to me that – while Jefferson was really smart – he fell into the “common error of thinking that he could ever really understand everything there is to know about God.”

But as noted above, “the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension.”  It’s a reality that we can only begin to grasp.  The same seems to be true of much of the Bible, and especially the “mystical” parts.  (Which may be why some choose “literalism.”  It’s ever so much easier…)

That brings up the Gospel for May 27, John 3:1-17.  There Jesus had a talk with a “Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews” who was really a “Christian,” but secretly.  And even a smart guy like Nicodemus – shown at right talking with Jesus – didn’t understand the idea of being “born again.”

His problem?  He took Jesus’ words too literally:  “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
…  If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

Which goes to show that reading the Bible too literally can only take you so far in your spiritual journey.  As Jesus Himself noted, the Bible includes many realities that are simply above our human comprehension:  “How can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

See also the end of John, John 21:25, which said there were many other things Jesus did, “which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”  (Also there’s Ecclesiasticus 42:17, the Old Testament DOR for the Eve of Trinity Sunday:  “The Lord has not empowered even his holy ones to recount all his marvellous works.”)  Which just goes to show there’s more to the Bible than meets the eye.

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The artist He Qi‘s interpretation of The Holy Spirit Coming down…  

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The upper image is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Thomas Jefferson, Official White House Portrait, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805.” 

The full set of readings for Pentecost Sunday (5/20/18):  Acts 2:1-21, or Ezekiel 37:1-14Romans 8:22-27, or Acts 2:1-21John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, and Psalm 104:25-35, 37.  The full set of readings for Trinity Sunday (5/27/18):  Isaiah 6:1-8Psalm 29Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-17.

Pentecost is also called “Tongue Sunday,” for the “tongues of fire” that appeared that day, as noted in Acts 2:3.  Also for “speaking in tongues” – also known as glossolalia – noted in Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Third, Pentecost marks the beginning of “Ordinary Time” – as it’s called in the Catholic Church – and shown in the chart at left.  Such “Ordinary Time” takes up over half the church year.  In the Episcopal Church – in the Anglican liturgy  – the Season of Pentecost begins on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday and goes on “through most of the summer and autumn.”  It may include as many as 28 Sundays, “depending on the date of Easter.”

As to Whitsunday: The name is a contraction of “White Sunday.”  In English “the feast was always called Pentecoste until after the Norman Conquest, when white (hwitte) began to be confused with wit or understanding.   [In] one interpretation, the name derives from the white garments worn by catechumens, those expecting to be baptised on that Sunday…  A different tradition is that of the young women of the parish all coming to church or chapel in new white dresses on that day. 

Re:  “Ecclesiasticus.”  That book – not to be confused with Ecclesiastes – is also called the Wisdom of Sirach And the “book itself is the largest wisdom book from antiquity to have survived:”

Sirach is accepted as part of the Christian biblical canons by CatholicsEastern Orthodox, and most of Oriental Orthodox. The Anglican Church does not accept Sirach as protocanonical, and says it should be read only “for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth not apply them to establish any doctrine.”

Note that the link in the main text provides the King James translation of Ecclesiasticus 42:17.  The quote as given in the main text is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The lower image is courtesy of The Good Heart: Holy Spirit Coming (Painting by He Qi):  

“A genuinely good heart is a heart that is open and alight with understanding.  It listens to the sorrows of the world.  Our society is wrong to think that happiness depends on fulfilling one’s own wants and desires.  That is why our society is so miserable…”

See also He Qi « Artist:  “One could say that among other things his paintings are a celebration of colour.  The style of his work is iconic, and [his] images are strong but gentle.”

 

Then Jesus “opened their minds…”

 “Jesus’ ascension to heaven,” by John Singleton Copley – after He “opened their minds…”

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The Gospel lesson for Sunday, April 15, 2018, was Luke 24:36b-48 (According to the Revised Common Lectionary, for Sunday Bible readings.)  That Sunday reading included Luke 24:45:  “Then he” – that is, Jesus – “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Which is precisely the point of this  blog…   Opening your mind when reading the Bible.

I wrote about Luke 24:45 last May in Ascension Day 2017 – “Then He opened their minds.”

(A note:  Last year Ascension Day was on May 25.  This year it’s coming up on May 10.  That’s because it’s always “celebrated on a Thursday …  the 40th day of Eastertide, the 50-day church season running from Easter Day to Pentecost Sunday.So anyway, here’s the point I was trying to make:

Luke 24 [included] the Road to Emmaus appearance.  [Shown below.]  That [was] followed in turn by the last of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus.  The two disciples at Emmaus had gotten up and “returned at once to Jerusalem.  There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together.”  Jesus then appeared in the midst of all of them, and taught them things;  i.e., He “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (E.A.)

1602-3 Caravaggio,Supper at Emmaus National Gallery, London.jpg

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Put another way, the key point was that some people may object to reading the Bible with an open mind.  But if they do, we can always say we’re “just following the example of Jesus as told in Luke 24:45.”  See also “There’s no such thing as a ‘conservative Christian.”  That post noted the difference between real Christians and “Pharisees.”  (Conservatives posing as Christians):

Christians aren’t negative, self-righteous, sanctimonious or hypocritical.  Real Christians work every day to make the world a better place, plowing ahead, while the pharisees get all the negative press…  Which of course leaves the rest of us with a heavy cross to bear.

And speaking of reading the Bible with an open mind, consider the “Daily” readings for Sunday, April 22, 2018.  Those Daily Office Readings included Mark 6:30-44.  That Gospel reading included the story of Jesus feeding the multitude(In this case, about 5,000.)

I wrote about that episode in April 2014’s Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  That post explained the difference between the traditional – or narrow-mindedinterpretation of the story, and one more in line with reason and experience.  That is, in the narrow-minded view, Jesus performed a fairly-routine magic trick.  (A “pure miracle, plain and simple.”)  The miracle can’t be explained rationally and was never meant to be understood rationally.

But there is a non-traditional view, and it’s based on the idea that some people in Jesus’ time never left home without taking a spare loaf of bread – or some other food – stashed somewhere in the folds of their robes.  Under that theory, Jesus started off with faith, and in turn got other people to act on that faith, and share what they had.  I ended the post this way:

Suppose the lesson Jesus intended to teach us was that – by His example – He got a bunch of normally-greedy people to share what they had.  That by His example, Jesus got those normally-greedy people to share so much of their own stuff that no one – in the crowd of “5,000 plus” – went hungry.  And more than that, there was even a surplus.  The question is:

Which would be the greater miracle?

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“Feeding the multitudes,” by Bernardo Strozzi….

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The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, Ascension of Jesus, with the full caption:  “Jesus’ ascension to heaven depicted by John Singleton Copley, 1775.”   

The full set of readings for Sunday, April 15, 2018, were:  Acts 3:12-19Psalm 41 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36b-48.  The full set of “Daily” readings for Sunday, April 22, 2018, were “AM Psalm 63:1-8(9-11), 98; PM Psalm 103;” along with Exodus 28:1-4,30-381st John 2:18-29; and Mark 6:30-44.

And incidentally, April 25, 2018 was the Feast Day for St. Mark, who wrote the first and shortest of the four Gospels.  For more see On St. Mark’s “Cinderella story.”  That is, at one point Mark’s was “the most ‘dissed‘” of the four Gospels:  For example, St. Augustine called Mark “the drudge and condenser” of Matthew’s Gospel.  The “Cinderella” angle started with serious Bible scholarship in the 19th Century, which noted that “the other three Gospels all cited material from Mark, but ‘he does not do the same for them.’”  The conclusion?  “Mark started the process and set the pattern of and for the other three Gospels.  As a result of that, since the 19th century Marks’ “has become the most studied and influential Gospel.”  See also More on “arguing with God” – and St. Mark as Cinderella.  Or you can type in “St. Mark” in the search box above right for more on this saint.

The “shown below” image is courtesy of Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio, London) – Wikipedia:

The painting depicts the moment when the resurrected but incognito Jesus, reveals himself to two of his disciples…  Cleopas wears the scallop shell of a pilgrim [and] gesticulates in a perspectively-challenging extension of arms in and out of the frame of reference…  The painting is unusual for the life-sized figures, the dark and blank background.  The table lays out a still-life meal.  Like the world these apostles knew, the basket of food teeters perilously over the edge.  [E.A.  Talk about Deja Vu All Over Again…]

Re:  “Which would be the greater miracle?”  That is, which would be the greater miracle, the Almighty Son of God performing a fairly routine magic trick, or a religious leader getting “normally greedy people” to share what they had?  I’m guessing the latter would be the greater miracle…

The lower image is courtesy of Feeding the multitude – Wikipedia The full caption:  “Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves of bread and two fish,” by Bernardo Strozzi, circa 1615.

 

Mary’s Visitation – and Pentecost – 2017

Sassoferrato - Jungfrun i bön.jpg

“The Virgin Mary in prayer” – by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato – circa 1650.

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We have two major feast days coming up.  On Wednesday, May 31, we remember the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  (As it’s formally known.)  See also Visitation – Wikipedia, and On the Visitation – 2016.  (That post featured the image at left, of Jesus as a young boy, holding a candle for His father, Saint Joseph.)

Then on June 4 we celebrate the Day of Pentecost.  It’s also known as Whitsunday, for reasons explained further below.

Pentecost Sunday is also referred to as the “Birthday of the Church,” for reasons explained in the 2015 post, On Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!”  On a related note, Pentecost – alias “Whitsunday” and the “Birthday of the Church” – has yet one other name it goes by.  And that name is related to Glossolalia:

Pentecost [as] described in Acts “was a momentous, watershed event..”  For the first time in history, God had empowered “all different sorts of people for ministry.  Whereas in the era of the Old Testament, the Spirit was poured out almost exclusively on prophets, priests, and kings,” on Pentecost the Holy Spirit had been given to “‘all people.’  All would be empowered to minister regardless of their gender, age, or social position.”

But aside from empowering “all people” to  be ministers of the Church, that “yet another name” for Pentecost is Tongue Sunday.  For one thing there were the “tongues of fire” that appeared that day, as noted in Acts 2:3:  “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”  Then too there was the “talking in strange languages.”

Congreso Nacional Juvenil3.jpgSome witnesses to that first Pentecost took the talking-in-strange-languages to  be “drunken babbling.”  (On the part of the members of this new sect – the early Christian Church.)  But as Isaac Asimov  made clear, they were speaking “in concrete, known languages.  As a result, people from a host of different nations could understand them.”  Or as told in Acts 2:4,  “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.“  

On the other hand, these days “Glossolalia is practiced in Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity as well as in other religions,” as shown above right.  On the “other other hand,” some Christians feel this kind of fervor misses Jesus’ point entirely.  (And actually drives potential converts away rather than bringing them into the Church.  See e.g. On snake-handling “redux,” which includes the image below left, with the caption:  “The snake handler on the right” – whose nickname could well be “Stumpy” – “is arguably taking Mark 16:18 “out of context…” )

Or as was stated in Luke 24:45, “Then He [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”  (It seems “close-mindedness” is a key part of such a too-literal reading of the Bible, as discussed in the notes.  See too Ascension Day 2017 – “Then He opened their minds.”)

But getting back to Whitsunday.  Wikipedia said this alternate term for Pentecost is a contraction of of the term “White Sunday.”  As to why it was called that, one theory says that shortly after the Norman Conquest, the Old English word white (“hwitte”) began to be confused with the word “wit or understanding.”  Another theory says the “name derives from the white garments worn by catechumens,” those to be “baptised on that Sunday.”  Yet another theory:  The young women of England all came “to church or chapel in new white dresses on that day.”

Whatever the reason, “As the first holiday of the summer, Whitsun was one of the favorite times in the traditional calendar and Whit Sunday, or the following week, was a time for celebration.”  As such this religious feast day has been superseded by Memorial Day, which It marks the “unofficial start of the summer vacation season.”  (“Labor Day marks its unofficial end.”)

Either way, the upcoming week is a great time to remember the heroic deeds of the past…

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A typical Western image of the Pentecost. Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308) Tempera on wood.

“A typical Western image of the Pentecost…”

(By Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, in the year 1308…)

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The upper image is courtesy of the Marian perspectives link at Mary, mother of Jesus – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Virgin in Prayer, by Sassoferrato, c. 1650.”  (Or in the alternative:  “Jungfrun i bön (1640-1650). National Gallery, London.”)  It image was featured in On the Visitation – 2016.  As indicated above, for further information on Pentecost see Ascension Day and Pentecost – 2016On the readings for Pentecost (6/8/14), and On Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!”

Re: Isaac Asimov.  See Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981). 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Pentecost.  And re:  Duccio di Buoninsegna: Born about 1250 and died about 1318, Buoninsegna was “considered to be the father of Sienese painting and, along with a few others, the founder of Western art.”  As to the year 1308, among the few notable events that we know of:  “January 25 – King Edward II of England marries Isabella of France.  They are both crowned a month later (on February 25).”  And on October 13 – “Walter Reynolds is consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, in England.”

On “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – 2017

“Martyrdom of St. Thomas” – the original Doubting Thomas – on the Malabar Coast of India…

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Resurrection (24).jpgToday is officially the Second Sunday of Easter.

Note the “of,” rather than “after.”  That’s because Easter is “not just one day, but an entire season.”  It’s a full season of 50 days – called Eastertide – that runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. (See Frohliche Ostern, which includes the image at left.)

So while today is technically the first Sunday after Easter, it is better known as the Second Sunday of Easter.  Actually, it’s really better known as Low Sunday.  That’s mostly because church attendance falls off so drastically that first Sunday “after.”  (Compared with the high attendance of Easter Day.  See also “CEOs;”  i.e., Christians who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.)

You could also call this day the “Sunday of Many Names.”  For example, it’s known as “Doubting Thomas Sunday.”  That’s mostly because the Gospel lesson always tells the story of the disciple Thomas.  (See e.g. John 20:19-31, “which recounts the story of Christ appearing to the Apostle Thomas in order to dispel the latter’s doubt about the Resurrection.”  Which made him in essence the original – the prototype – Doubting Thomas.”)

And today is known as the Octave of Easter.  (In this case the Octave in question is the eight-day period “in Eastertide that starts on Easter Sunday and runs until the Sunday following Easter.”)

Finally, it’s known as “Quasimodo Sunday.”  But that’s not because of Quasimodo, the guy – shown at right – who is better known as the “Hunchback of Notre Dame:”

Instead, the name comes from a Latin translation of the beginning of First Peter 2:2 , a traditional “introit” used in churches on this day.  First Peter 2:2 begins – in English and depending on the translation – “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile…”  [Or, “pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”]  In Latin the verse reads:  “Quasi modo geniti infantes…”    Literally, “quasi modo means ‘as if in [this] manner.’”

Since “geniti” translates as “newborn” and the translation of “infantes” seems self-evident, the “quasi modo” in question roughly translates, “As if in the manner” (of newborn babes)…  And incidentally, that character in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was named after the opening words of First Peter 2:2.  (See The Bible – Lectionary Musings and Color Commentary, and also First musings – The readings for “Doubting Thomas” Sunday, both from April 24, 2014).

As Wikipedia noted, a doubting Thomas is “a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience, a reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.”

Aside from the posts noted above, I’ve written about this disciple in Doubting Thomas – and Peter Restored, and Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India.”  The “Passage to India” post noted that according to tradition, Thomas became a  missionary who traveled to India.  That is, he sailed to India in the year 52 AD, to spread the Christian faith:

According to tradition, St. Thomas was killed in 72 AD[, possibly] at Mylapore near Chennai in India…  This is the earliest known record of his martyrdom..   Some Patristic literature state[s] that St. Thomas died a martyr, in east of Persia or in North India by the wounds of the four spears pierced into his body by the local soldiers.

Which is what the painting at the top of the page shows.  Put another way, in his travels Thomas “ultimately reached India, carrying the Faith to the Malabar Coast” – shown at right in red, on the southwestern coast of India – “which still boasts a large native population calling themselves ‘Christians of St. Thomas.’”

On the other hand, the Peter Restored post addressed the question:  If you doubt and question your faith – like Thomas did – will that faith actually grow stronger?

In other words, how do we as Christians deal with our doubts?

The theme of this post is that – for boot-camp Christians – the answer is simple:  You shouldn’t have any doubts.  In other words, you should “blindly believe.”  But for the rest of us there’s another answer, and that answer ultimately provides a stronger Christian faith:

Remember Thomas, the disciple, who wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he put his hand into Jesus’s wounds.  He went on to die spreading the gospel in Persia and India.  God gave us free choice, He doesn’t want us to be robots, He could have made us like that, but wanted us to choose for ourselves.  You learn and grow by questioning. (E.A.)

And by doing that you’ll probably end up – spiritually anyway – like the kindly, gentle, learned disciple shown in the painting below.  (Another view of St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens.)  And that’s the kind of disciple who could convert people to Christianity even in a continent made up of Hindus and Muslims; that is, an otherwise unfertile continent for conversion, yet “which still boasts a large native population calling themselves ‘Christians of St. Thomas.’”

Which brings up The True Test of Faith.  Somehow Thomas seemed to have the kind of faith that – even if he ultimately found that the whole “Jesus thing” was a hoax – he’d still end up saying, at the end of his life, “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas

St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens

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The upper image is courtesy of Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia.  The full caption: “Martyrdom of St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens.”

Re:  “Low Sunday.”  See Why Attendance Will Be Low This Sunday, and also Low Sunday | Article about Low Sunday by The Free Dictionary.

The Wikipedia caption for the image of Quasimodo reads:  “Esmeralda gives a drink to Quasimodo in one of Gustave Brion‘s illustrations.”

Re Introit.  Merriam-Webster defines it as either “the first part of the traditional proper of the Mass consisting of an antiphon, verse from a psalm, and the Gloria Patri,” or a “piece of music sung or played at the beginning of a worship service.”  The Gloria Patri generally goes like this:  “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, and now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.”

Re:Both from April 24, 2014.”  I apparently published two separate posts on the same topic.

The lower image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas – Art and the Bible

“Starting back with a bang…”

Artemisia Gentileschi: Bathing Bathsheba

Bathsheba taking a bath –  with David watching  – “from his balcony (top left)…” 

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http://www.americaremembers.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/GATRI_photo.jpgAs the last post noted, it’s been a busy several weeks since July 23, when I left God’s Country.  (The ATL.)  I spent almost six weeks hiking the Chilkoot Trail – “meanest 33 miles in history” – and canoeing 440 miles on the “mighty Yukon River.”  I got home on August 29, and since then have written one post, “Back in the saddle again,” again.

Now it’s time to start back with a bang, which explains the painting at the top of the page.  “Which is being interpreted:”

In case you were wondering, you can find one set of Bible readings for this upcoming Sunday – September 11 – at Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 19.  Those readings include Psalm 51:1-11, which I wrote about in The readings for July 26.  That post included the painting above, of David watching Bathsheba taking a bath.  And one result of that encounter was that David wrote Psalm 51.  (Because he felt so guilty…)

In writing Psalm 51, “David threw himself on the mercy of God after committing adultery and murder…  His two-fold repentance provides a model that we should follow.”

You can see the story behind Psalm 51 at 2d Samuel 11:1-15.  It tells how David – after he became King of Israel – came to see Bathsheba taking a bath “in the altogether:”

It also tells what David did to Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband.  (After he – David – got her pregnant.)   When Bathsheba told him about that, David had Uriah brought back from the war and tried to trick him into knowing her in the Biblical sense.  (That way, Uriah would think that the kid was his.)  When that didn’t work, David basically had Uriah killed.  (But he made it look like an accident.)  And it was because of all this that David wrote Psalm 51, “by any measure, one of the best-known and most often read penitential texts” in the Bible.

But from there this Sunday’s Bible readings get a lot more cheerful.

For example, the Gospel is Luke 15:1-10.  It includes Jesus telling both the Parable of the Lost Coin – shown at right – and the Parable of the Lost Sheep.  (And believe me, there were times I felt like a “lost sheep” hiking the “Chilkoot &^%$ Trail.”)  But we digress…  

As far as feast days go, coming up on September 14 is Holy Cross Day.

As Wikipedia noted, “there are several different Feasts of the Cross, all of which commemorate the cross used in the crucifixion of Jesus.”  And within the Church as a whole – Eastern and Western – such Feasts of the Cross are celebrated on various days:  like October 12, March 6, May 3, and August 1.

What they have in common is celebrating “the cross itself, as the instrument of salvation.”  The Feast Day on September 14 is known by different names, including – in Greek, translated – “Raising Aloft of the Honored and Life-Giving Cross.”  However, in the Anglican Communion the feast is called Holy Cross Day, “a name also used by Lutherans.”

For more see Holy Cross Day, on the Satucket or Daily Office Reading* website.  It noted that this was a day for recognizing the Cross as a “symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ’s victory over death, and a reminder of His promise, ‘And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.’” (John 12:32.)    And the article noted that this practice goes back a long time:

Tertullian [seen below left] around AD 211, says that Christians seldom do anything significant without making the sign of the cross…   The Cross is the personal mark of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we mark it on ourselves as a sign that we belong to Him…  [Or] as one preacher has said, if you were telling someone how to make a cross, you might say … “Draw an I and then cross it out.”

Tertullian of Carthage (from André Thevet)See the day’s Bible readings – in the “RCL” – at Holy Cross Day:  Isaiah 45:21-25Psalm 98, Philippians 2:5-11, and John 12:31-36a.

Of particular interest is Psalm 98:1, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”  I noted the implications of Psalm 98:1 in the post, Singing a NEW song to God.

The gist of which is this: “How can we do greater works than Jesus if we interpret the Bible in a cramped, narrow, strict and/or limiting manner?  For that matter, why does the Bible so often tell us to ‘sing to the Lord a new song?’”   (See also Isaiah 42:10 and Psalms 96:1, 98:1, and 144:9.)

Getting back to the Feast of the Cross, Wikipedia added this note, on how Constantine‘s mother found the “True Cross,” and in passing about the value of pilgrimages in general:

According to legends that spread widely, the True Cross was discovered in 326 by Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great,* during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem.

And speaking of pilgrimages:  Of course the two  I went on this summer weren’t close to being like going to Jerusalem.  However, for next summer – or more precisely, September 2017 – my brother and I plan to hike the Camino de Santiago, mostly in Spain.

I’ll talk more about that – and pilgrimages in general – in St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts…

 The “Way of St. James pilgrims (1568)”

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The upper image is courtesy of David and Bathsheba – The Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi.  The painting was done in 1650.  The full caption:  

Pretty Bathsheba has finished her bath.  She is fixing her hair, using the mirror held by a servant…   Perhaps she has already received King David’s message.  David has been watching her from his balcony (top left) and asks her to pay him a visit.

Gentileschi (1593-1656) was a woman artist in an “era when women painters were not easily accepted by the artistic community or patrons.”  She was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, and painted “many pictures of strong and suffering women from myth and the Bible – victims, suicides, warriors.”  

Her best-known work is Judith Slaying Holofernes, which is pretty gruesome.  It shows her decapitating Holofernes, in a “scene of horrific struggle and blood-letting.”  She – Gentileschi – was raped earlier in life, which apparently wasn’t that unusual at the time.   What was unusual was that she “participated in prosecuting the rapist.”  For many years that incident overshadowed her achievements as an artist, and she was “regarded as a curiosity.”  But today she is seen as “one of the most progressive and expressionist painters of her generation.”

*   *   *   *

Turning to the other notes, an asterisk (“*”) in the main text indicates that a word or two of explanation will be made in these notes.  For example, about “Psalm 51.*”  On many Sundays the Revised Common Lectionary has two “tracks,” or two sets of Bible readings to choose from.  (At the same time, usually the second – New Testament – reading and Gospel reading are the same for both Tracks, as for September 11, 2016.)  On that note, the church I attend usually follows Track 1, but Psalm 51 – listed on “Track 2″ – is much easier and much more interesting to write about.  

The image of Tertullian is courtesy of EarlyChurch.org.uk: Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160 – 225).

Re:  “Draw an I and then cross it out.”  The article adds this proviso, “As if to say ‘Help me, Lord, to abandon my self-centeredness and self-will.’”

The Bible readings for Holy Cross Day – on the “Satucket or Daily Office Reading” website – are: “AMPsalm 66; Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:11-17,” and “PM Psalm 118; Genesis 3:1-15; 1 Peter 3:17-22.”

The lower image is courtesy of Camino de Santiago – Wikipedia.

Two Marys and a James – Saints

Johannes (Jan) Vermeer - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Google Art Project.jpg

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” as featured in this Sunday’s Gospel…  

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This post is on this Sunday’s Gospel, and on three feast days coming up at the end of july.

For starters, this Sunday’s Gospel is Luke 10:38-42.  It’s about Martha, who had a sister named Mary.  And Mary turned out to be not much help when Jesus came to visit them in Bethany:

Martha was distracted by her many tasks;  so she came to him [ – Jesus – ] and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

I wrote about the two sisters in Mary and Martha of Bethany.  That post featured the painting above left, a  “plot twist” by Velázquez.  (Among other things, the artist did a “painting within a painting.”  Which leads to the question:  “Who are the two women in the foreground?”)

The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt - Vincent van GoghNote also that this July 29 is the feast day for Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus.

(But that’s only in the “Satucket” or Daily Office Lectionary.  As in Mary, Martha, [& Lazarus, their brother].  Note also this was the Lazarus who Jesus Raised From The Dead, as interpreted by Van Gogh, at right.  But he’s not to be confused with “the beggar named Lazarus,” described in Luke 16:19-31.)

At first glance, the story of these two sisters seems to exemplify the kind of ongoing personality conflict so prevalent today, and especially in our politics.  But Luke’s point seemed to be:  That “far from being bickering sisters, these two were a team, each complementing the other.”  

That is, the sisters could be seen as two parts of a unified whole:

Which is another way of saying that the debate over which is the better path … has been going for most if not all the 2,000 years since the Church was born…  Mary and Martha remind us that we need not “be at odds with each other” over religion [or other matters].  Instead we need to work on becoming two – or more – “parts of the whole.”

For the rest of the story, go ahead and read On Mary and Martha of Bethany for yourself.

Tizian 009.jpgCloser to home – chronologically – is the feast day for Mary Magdalene.  Her special day is July 22, which I wrote about in Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles.”  That post featured the painting “Penitent Magdalene,” by Titian, at left.  (Along with a link to “a ‘racier‘ version in 1533.”)  

But seriously, here’s the main point of this Mary’s story:

Jesus “restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection.”  She did that, and set an example for us all.  And she did all that despite a sordid past and a really lousy reputation.

That is, according to Wikipedia, this particular Mary – which was a common name in Jesus’ time – had a really bad reputation.  “In Western Christianity, she’s known as ‘repentant prostitute or loose woman.'”  Or as Isaac Asimov put it, this Mary “has been considered, in tradition, to have been a prostitute and to have repented as a result of her meeting with Jesus.  Thus the seven devils” – noted in Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2 – “might then be considered devils of lust.”  

However, further research seems to show that such claims “are unfounded.”

For one thing – and as Wikipedia noted – those claims “are not supported by the canonical gospels.  The identity of Mary Magdalene is believed to have been merged with the identity of the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36–50.”  But one thing is clear:

She is most prominent in the narrative of the crucifixion of Jesus, at which she was present. She was also present two days later …  present two days later [when] she was, either alone or as a member of a group of women, the first to testify to the resurrection of Jesus.   John 20 and Mark 16:9 specifically name her as the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary MagdalenTo repeat:  Mary Magdalene was both the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection – as shown at right – and the first person “to testify to the resurrection of Jesus.”

Which may explain why this Mary had such a lousy reputation. (Male vanity being what it is.)  That is, while Jesus’ male disciples cowered in their hiding places – John 20:19 – Mary of Magdala stayed at the tomb, braving the danger.  (John 20:11.)

So it would only be natural for those male disciples to spread rumors about Magdalene’s past.  (In an effort to cover up their shortcomings when they got to their own personal “breaking point…”)

This is called building yourself up by tearing other people down.  And it’s a common phenomenon “even to this day.”  In turn, Mary’s bad reputation may well have been the result of the jealousy of her male rivals, as noted in “Apostle to the Apostles:”

The one indisputable fact seems to be that Mary Magdalene … was both the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus.  (Which may have accounted for jealous males trying to sully her reputation.)

And finally, the third of three feast days coming up at the end of July is for St. James the Greater.

Guido Reni - Saint James the Greater - Google Art Project.jpgHe’s called the Greater – as seen at right – to “distinguish him from James, son of Alphaeus and James the Just.”  He was one of the first disciples to join Jesus. (Matthew 4:21-22.)  He was one of only three apostles selected by Jesus to witness His Transfiguration.  And he was apparently the first Apostle to be martyred.  (One author suggested it was because of the “fiery temper, for which he and his brother earned the nickname Boanerges or ‘Sons of Thunder.’”  See Mark 3:17.)

And finally, this James is the patron saint of pilgrims.

That’s fitting because I myself will be doing my own pilgrimage for pretty much the whole month of August.  (As in North To Alaska.  As to whether I will go “from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude,” that’s a whole ‘nother matter entirely.)

Which brings up the water-skiiing metaphor shown below, and how it applies to pilgrims:

As yours truly once wrote, starting your spiritual pilgrimage by reading the Bible on a regular basis “is a bit like water-skiing,” or more precisely, “a bit like grabbing the handle of the rope” attached to a metaphoric “Big Motorboat in the Sky.  (As shown below.)  Once you grab on, your main job is simply to hang on for dear life…”

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CG-20 The Big Jump Water Skiing at Florida Cypress Gardens Lakeland

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A note about the wording of the title.  Being assiduous, I Googled the search term “what’s the plural of mary.”  (Just to make sure the title was grammatically correct.)  The most relevant answer came from What is the plural of bloody mary? – WordHippo:  “The plural form of bloody mary is bloody marys.”  (Though the plural form still looks a bit strange.)

The upper image is courtesy of  Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Vermeer) – Wikipedia.  See also Mary of Bethany – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Christ in the House of Martha and MaryJohannes Vermeer, before 1654–1655, oil on canvas (National Gallery of Scotland,Edinburgh) – Mary is seated at the feet of Jesus.”

The other Bible readings for 7/17 are, in Track 1, Amos 8:1-12 and  Psalm 52.  The Track 2 readings are Genesis 18:1-10a and Psalm 15.  Colossians 1:15-28 and Luke 10:38-42 are in both tracks.

The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

Thus as noted, Titian did a racier version in 1533, some 32 years before the “more mature” version herein. See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia.  (But that racier version can’t necessarily be explained by excess hormones.  Titian was born between 1488 and 1490, so he would be at least 43 years hold when he did his 1533 version.  By 1565, when he did the version shown above, he would have been at least 75 years old.  That may explain why he felt the need to “tone it down” a bit, being so much closer to the end of his life.)  So anyway, for more on this Mary see also MARY MAGDALENE, Bible Woman: first witness to Resurrection, and What Did Mary Magdalene look like?

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about Mary Magdalene are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 899-902. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

Re: “Breaking point.”  Garry Wills translated the Lord’s Prayer to read “and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.”  (The traditional translation reads “lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.”)  But as I noted in The True Test of Faith, “somehow, based on my own life experience, the term ‘Breaking Point’ seems more appropriate.”  See also Wills’ book What the Gospels Meant, and/or What the Gospels Meant … Book Review.

The “James” image is  courtesy of James, son of Zebedee – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Surfing and Waterskiing Vintage Postcards & Images, and/or CG-20 The Big Jump Water Skiing at Florida Cypress Gardens  Lakeland Florida (FL), Linen unused.  (As to why someone my age may go on such an arduous journey, see On returning from a pilgrimage.  

Those “not-so-good” Samaritans…

Luke the Evangelist – who wrote the Gospel for 7/10/16 – was said to have been quite the artist…

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The Lectionary says that July 10 is the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.  (Using “Proper 10.”)  It offers a choice of two sets of Bible readings, but what they have in common are the second reading and the Gospel: Colossians 1:1-14, and Luke 10:25-37.  Luke begins like this:

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He  said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer…”  But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Two points.  One is that this passage is Luke’s version of the “Cliff’s Notes‘ summary of the Bible” that Jesus gave in Matthew 22:36-40 (See The GIST of the matter.)  In other words, in His response to the smart-alecky lawyer’s question – trying to trick or “test” Him – Jesus did us all a big favor:

Jesus boiled the whole Bible down to two simple “shoulds.” You should try all your life to love, experience and get to know “God” with all you have. And to the extent possible, you should try to live peaceably with your “neighbors.”

(See “Bible basics” revisited.”)  The other point is that in further response to the lawyer, Jesus went on to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  (Portrayed at left.)  And I wrote about that parable in the post, On those “not-so-good” Samaritans.

For starters, one thing most people don’t know is that “calling someone a ‘Samaritan’ in the time of Jesus was pretty much like calling him a ‘Communist’ – or worse – in the America of the 1950s.”   The Jews – of which Jesus was one – hated Samaritans and the Samaritans in turn hated the Jews.  And tensions “were particularly high in the early decades of the 1st century because Samaritans had desecrated the Jewish Temple at Passover with human bones.”

That “Not-so-good” Samaritans post noted that in the eyes of Jesus’ Jewish audience, Samaritans were Second-Class Citizens, or worse.  “‘Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil’ was the mode in which the Jews expressed themselves when at a loss for a bitter reproach.”

That’s reflected in Matthew 10:5–6, where Jesus told His disciples:  “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.” (E.A.)  And sometimes other Jews hurled this epithet at Jesus.  See John 8:48, where “The people retorted,  “You Samaritan devil!  Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”  (In the New Living Translation.)

The sentence [- “you’re a Samaritan!” -] is singularly insulting in its tone and form.  We cannot measure the exact amount of insult they condensed into this word, whether it be of heresy, or alienation from Israel, or accusation of impure descent. (E.A.)

All of which is another way of saying there’s more to this parable than meets the eye.

To get the full story, read On those “not-so-good” Samaritans yourself.

(The post includes the cute Samaritan at right, who “formally converted to Judaism at the age of 18” and did the voice-over role of “Ella of Frell (played by Anne Hathaway) in the Hebrew dub of the film ‘Ella Enchanted.’”)

And finally, the post cited Isaac Asimov.  He said the “flavor of the parable” could be set in modern terms with a “white southern farmer left for dead.”  The farmer would be ignored and passed over by a minister and sheriff, but helped and ultimately saved by a Negro sharecropper.

In other words, a man is not a “neighbor” because of what he is but because of what he does.  A goodhearted Samaritan is more the neighbor of a Jew, than a hardhearted fellow Jew.  And, by extension, one might argue that the parable teaches that all men are neighbors, since all men could do well and have compassion, regardless of nationality.  To love one’s neighbor is to love all men…  The point Jesus was making was that even a Samaritan could be a neighbor; how much more so, anyone else.

And finally, Asimov noted that only the Gospel of Luke included this parable, which is “among the most popular of all those attributed to Jesus, and which preaches universalism.”

All of which makes for a good and timely object lesson for today…

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Vincent van Gogh's Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), The Painting

Vincent van Gogh‘s interpretation of The Good Samaritan

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The upper image is courtesy of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia.  The full caption: “’Luke paints the Madonna and the Baby Jesus,’ by Maarten van Heemskerck.”  On that note:

Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that he [Luke] was the first icon painter.  He is said to have painted pictures of the Virgin Mary and Child…  He was also said to have painted Saints Peter and Paul, and to have illustrated a gospel book with a full cycle of miniatures.

The caption for the Parable of the Good Samaritan image reads:  “Christian Charity coin.”  The link-reference is to a Wikipedia article on Euro gold and silver commemorative coins, and specifically on Austrian coins, part of a collection “2000 Years of Christianity.”  One side of the coin portrays a “modern instance of Christian charity…  A nun working as a nurse comforts a sick man:”

The reverse depicts one of the best-known parables of the New Testament, the story of the Good Samaritan.  In this parable, Christ compares 3 differing responses to a stranger that has been attacked and robbed.  The coin shows the Good Samaritan with the wounded man on his horse as he takes him for medical attention.  On the coin, the text “Barmherziger Samariter” (“Merciful Samaritan”) can be read.

The “cute Samaritan” image is of Israeli actress Sofi Tzadka.  “Born as an Israeli Samaritan, along with her siblings [she] formally converted to Judaism at the age of 18.”  

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about the Samaritans are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 377-382, and pages 943-45.  The quote about the “hated and heretical” Samaritans is from page 523. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy,mathematics, the Bible,William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’” 

 The lower image is courtesy of “The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix),” by Vincent Van Gogh.

(See also “Inclusion,” the practice where “different groups or individuals having different backgrounds like origin, age, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and other are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed, equally treated, etc.” )

On Trinity Sunday (2016) – and more!

Painting of Jefferson wearing fur collar by Rembrandt Peale, 1800

Even a smart guy like Jefferson couldn’t figure out The Trinity – celebrated next Sunday… 

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Next May 22 is Trinity Sunday.  That’s a rare feast day in the liturgical year that celebrates “a doctrine instead of an event.”  See also What is the Trinity:

The word “trinity” is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet identical in essence.  In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the Trinity.

Sound confusing?  It is, but before we get into it any deeper, a note about a recent Daily Office Reading.  I.e., the New Testament DOR for Monday, May 16, 2016:  1st John 3:18-4:6.

That reading included 1st John 3:22.  This passage is right after the one saying we can have confidence – or “boldness” – when dealing with God. (Assuming “our hearts don’t condemn us.”)  Then comes 1st John 3:22, which added this:  “And we will receive from [God] whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.”

And that’s a passage that can be misleading.  That is, some people seem to think that once they become a Christian, God becomes a sort of “magic genie,” who will cater to their every whim.  (As illustrated – sarcastically – in “O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz,” by Janis Joplin, above left.)

But – as a reasonable person might expect – the spiritual life isn’t that simple.

For starters, Matthew Henry’s Commentary noted Christians can indeed “ask what they would” of God.  But there’s this proviso:  “They would receive it, if good for them.”  And as all kids can say of their parents, what they want is usually way different than “what’s good for them.”

Transfiguration by Lorenzo LottoThen there’s the fact that quite often God has a different timetable than us.  See Readings for October 26, which noted that Moses finally did reach the Promised Land.  However, it took over a thousand years after he died.  (In the Transfiguration of Jesus):

Moses’ faith had its ultimate reward and vindication centuries later.  In God’s economy, promises and fulfillment are not measured by our calendars.  Centuries run their course.  Yet some day in the future, the full meaning of our acts and life of faith will become evident.  That was true for Moses, and it will be true for us.

You can see another disclaimer – on the tendency to over-simplify 1st John 3:22 – at “Job the not patient” – REDUX.  That post discussed the ever-perplexing theme of “God’s justice in the face of human suffering – or simply, ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’”

Which is another way of saying that many times we don’t get what we ask for, from God.  (As opposed to getting what we need, or “what’s good for us.”)

Or see Wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel,” which noted that getting good things from God should be as hard as shooting the head off a matchstick from 100 yards away.  (But usually isn’t.)

(And “Virgil” also noted one professor’s view:  That we mere human beings are no more prepared to fully comprehend God than “cats are prepared to study calculus.”)

But getting back to Trinity Sunday.  The point of all this is that – if you don’t fully understand the whole concept of The Trinity – don’t feel too bad.  Or alone, for that matter…

A leather-bound Bible

The thing is, as smart a guy as Thomas Jefferson couldn’t figure it out either.  (In fact, Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible – shown at left – “by cutting and pasting with a razor and glue numerous sections from the New Testament as extractions of the doctrine of Jesus.”)

Or as it was put in The Solemnity of Trinity Sunday in the Catholic Church: “We can never fully understand the mystery of the Trinity.”  It is however “the most fundamental of Christian beliefs,” that God is “three Persons in one Nature.  The three Persons of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – are all equally God, and They cannot be divided.”

Which is indeed food for thought.

You can see all the Sunday Bible readings at 1st Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday).  And Romans 5:3-4 continues the theme of what we want vswhat’s good for us:

[S]uffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Character Building(For a more “worldly” view on building character, see Calvin and Hobbes, with the image at right.)

But getting back to the readings at Trinity Sunday, they also include John 16:12-13.  There Jesus said, “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.  However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.”

Two points.  The first has to do with the part where Jesus said, “you can’t bear it now.”

Paul brought up that very issue in 1st Corinthians 3:2.  There he told the Christians in Corinth, “I had to feed you with milk” – metaphorically speaking – “not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.  And you still aren’t ready…”  Which is another way of saying that the people both Jesus and Paul were talking to were still boot-camp Christians.

(As noted below, these days they’re the Biblical literalists who never go “beyond the fundamentals.”)

And that’s just another way of saying – as Paul did – that the Bible is fully of “mysteries.”  For a list of some “mysteries” Paul listed, see the notes below, or St. Mark’s “Cinderella story.”

But because of all those “mysteries” in the Bible, it takes awhile to understand.  (A lifetime “and more,” in fact.)  And that’s just another way of saying, sometimes we just “can’t handle the truth!”

We need help.  And that brings up the second point, which has to do with the Spirit of truth, also called the Holy Spirit.  That’s the “third divine person of The Trinity,” and probably the least understood of the Three.

Put simply, assume God is the Ultimate Judge and Jesus is the Ultimate Public Defender.  In turn, the Holy Spirit is the “Ultimate Counselor.”  See John 14:26, interpreted in the Complete Jewish Bible.  There Jesus said, “the Counselor, the Ruach HaKodesh, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything;  that is, he will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Note that as originally written, the term can be translated “the Comforter,” the “Spirit of Promise,” the “Spirit of Revelation,” or the “Spirit of Wisdom.”

But we’re getting close to the end here.  So in closing, for more information, see last year’s On Trinity Sunday, 2015.  That post included an image similar to the one below.   And it included some notes about parts of the Bible that are hard to understand:

That is, both the doctrine of the Trinity and the idea that Isaiah could have his lips “touched” with a hot coal without screaming like a banshee are difficult to comprehend.

The “banshee” part referred to Isaiah 6:6-7.  That was part of the Old Testament reading for Trinity Sunday 2015.  The full reading was about Isaiah being commissioned by God, during which “one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth…”  

Which led to my comment about screaming like a banshee.

One point from last year’s post:  That Thomas Jefferson – like many of us – fell into a common error:  Thinking “he could ever really understand everything there is to know about God.”  But like many parts of the Bible, the Trinity – like Isaiah 6:6-7 – are simply beyond our ability to comprehend, fully.  “It’s a reality that we may only begin to grasp.”  Which seems to be why   so many Christians choose literalism.  “It’s ever so much easier.

However – if you don’t want to remain “a Bible buck private all your life” – enjoy your spiritual journey, with all its challenges.  Beginning with next Sunday’s celebration of the Trinity.

 

The “Holy Trinity,” by Luca Rossetti da Orta (1738-39)

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The upper image is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “Thomas Jefferson, Official White House Portrait, by Rembrandt Peale, 1805.”  That article also included the “Jefferson Bible” image in the text, to the left of the paragraph beginning, “And if you don’t understand all that, don’t feel bad.”

See also Trinity Sunday in the United States, and On the readings for July 26.

Re: the Jefferson Bible.  It is formally known as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

The complete Daily Office Bible readings for Monday, May 16, 2016, are:  Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7; along with Proverbs 3:11-20; 1st John 3:18-4:6; and Matthew. 11:1-6.

Re: Romans 5:3-4.  Note that the link is to the NIV translation.  The block-quote is from “Satucket.”   

The full list of Paul’s “mysteries,” noted in St. Mark’s “Cinderella story:”

For example, see 1st Corinthians 2:7, where Paul spoke of “the word of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom.”  He spoke of the “knowledge in the mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:4, and of the “fellowship of the mystery” in Ephesians 3:9.  In Ephesians 5:32 he wrote, “This is a great [or “profound”] mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  Paul told Christians to “make known the mystery of the gospel” in Ephesians 6:19, and to hold “the mystery of the faith” – or the “deep truths” – in a “pure conscience” in 1st Timothy 3:9.  He said that “great is the mystery of godliness” in 1st Timothy 3:16, and in 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul said that Christians were to be faithful “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Re: God as Ultimate Judge, Jesus as Ultimate Public Defender, and the Holy Spirit as the Ultimate Counselor.  See also The GIST (Part II).

The lower image is courtesy of Trinity Sunday – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Holy Trinity, fresco by Luca Rossetti da Orta, 1738-9 (St. Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea, Torino).”

More on “arguing with God” – and St. Mark as Cinderella

St. Mark, second from the right.  (His symbol – a lion – sleeps in the right foreground…) 

 *   *   *   *

This post talks about two recent Daily [Bible] Readings, and an upcoming Feast Day.  (The one for St. Mark, on Monday April 25.)  And here’s a note about the painting above.

St. Mark – second from the right – is seated directly above his symbol, a lion.  (John, author of the fourth Gospel, is at the far right, standing and dressed in white.)  I mention all this because – as noted – St. Mark’s feast day is next Monday, April 25.

But first I wanted to talk about the Old Testament Daily Office Reading for last Monday, April 18.

That reading is Exodus 32:1-20.  I first wrote about that passage in Arguing with God.

File:DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover.jpgThat’s when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to get the 10 Commandments from God.  But back at base camp, the Children of Israel were partying up a storm.  (Maybe since they’d just been freed from 400 years of slavery.)  Which naturally made God mad.

(Moses got pretty mad too, as shown by the image at right.)

But the point is that God got so mad that He decided to destroy the Children of Israel and start all over again, with just Moses.  In the Good News Translation of Exodus 32:10, God said to Moses:  “Now, don’t try to stop me.  I am angry with them, and I am going to destroy them.  Then I will make you and your descendants into a great nation.” (Emphasis added.)

But here’s what happened next, as detailed in the King James 2000 Bible:

And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why does your wrath grow hot against your people … ?  Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains…  Turn from your fierce wrath, and change from this evil against your people.  Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants…  And the LORD turned from the evil which he thought to do unto his people.

That’s Exodus 32, verses 11-14.  (The “KJ2” link is at the top, second from the far right.)

Arguing with God noted the difference between Moses “pleading” or “beseeching” God.  But the point is that what Moses was really doing was using his powers of persuasion to get God to change His Mind.  In plain words, you could say that Moses was arguing with God.

And that’s a concept that many Christians – including most Fundamentalists or “Conservatives” – would find highly incongruous.  And speaking of Moses, the Old Testament Daily Office Reading for Wednesday, April 18, talked about how Moses got in touch with God.  (While the ancient Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.)

That reading was Exodus 33:1-23, and it includes Exodus 33:7-11:

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting…  When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses…  Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.

Keep in mind that Moses was writing about – and referring to – himself in the third person.

That’s writing called illeism, and I wrote about that style of writing about this time last year, in Moses and “illeism.”

But more to the point, it goes to show “just when, where and how Moses came to write the first five books of the Bible.  (The Torah.)  I contemplated that subject – as illustrated at left – in My Lenten meditation, from last February.

Among other revelations, I found that it could be argued that Moses got his idea of “One God” from his time as a Prince of Egypt.  And from the fact that Akhenaten – the Pharaoh who ruled 100 years before Moses – seems to have first introduced the idea of one God – monotheism – to the Egyptians.  (But they just weren’t ready for that idea.)

And that while Moses may have written parts of the first five books of the Bible, he may have had to rely on oral tradition for some of his history.  (See also Moses [and] the Burning Bush.)

But now it’s time to get back to St. Mark and his Feast Day.  It’s celebrated next Monday, April 25, and you can see the full set of Bible readings at St. Mark, Evangelist.

See also St. Mark’s “Cinderella story”,” from last April 25.  That post talked about how Mark’s account “is (or was) the most ‘dissed‘ of the Gospels.”  That is, for many centuries the Early Church Fathers pretty much neglected Mark’s Gospel.  (St. Augustine called Mark “the drudge and condenser” of Matthew.)  Foe one thing, his written Greek was much “clumsier and more awkward” than the more-polished writing in Matthew, Luke and John.

The result?  Mark’s was the “least cited Gospel in the early Christian period:”

But “this Cinderella got her glass slipper,” beginning in the 19th century…  That’s when Bible scholars finally noticed the other three Gospels all cited material from Mark, but “he does not do the same for them…”  And as a result of that, since the 19th century Mark’s “has become the most studied and influential Gospel.”

In other words, later scholars concluded that Mark “started the process and set the pattern of and for the other three Gospels.”  And that belated recognition – of Mark’s as the real trend-setter of the Gospels – is where the Cinderella-story metapor comes in.

Then too, ever since then people have been struggling with the idea of God, just like Jacob did…

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File:Leloir - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.jpgJacob wrestling with the Angel…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Peter Paul Rubens: The Four Evangelists, which noted:  “Rubens portrayed the four evangelists while working together on their texts.  An angel helps them…   Each gospel author can be identified by an attribute.  The attributes were derived from the opening verses of the gospels.  From left to right: Luke (bull), Matthew (man [angel]), Mark (lion), and John (eagle).” See also Four Evangelists – Wikipedia.

The full Daily Office Readings for Monday, April 18, 2016 are:  Psalm 41, 52 (morning); Psalm 44 (evening); Exodus 32:1-20; Colossians 3:18-4:6(7-18); and Matthew 5:1-10.

The image of Moses is borrowed from On Moses and “illeism.”  See that post for the full references. 

The full Daily Office Readings for Wednesday, April 20, 2016 are:  Psalm 119:49-72 (morning); Psalm 49, [53] (evening); Exodus 33:1-23; 1st Thessalonians 2:1-12; and Matthew 5:17-20.  The indented quote in the main text of Exodus 33:7-11 is from the Revised Standard Version.  The link in the main text will take you to the New International Version.

The lower image, courtesy of Wikipedia, is Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Louis Leloir(1865).  Leloir (1843-1884), was a a French painter specializing in genre and history paintings. His younger brother was painter and playwright Maurice Leloir.