Category Archives: Sunday Bible readings

Background and “color commentary” on the Sunday Lectionary readings

On Luke and the “rich young man”

The ‘Sacrifice of Isaac,’ where God finally said “Stop!  Let’s change some ‘traditional values…’”

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Grandes Heures Anne de Bretagne Saint Luc.jpgThursday, October 18, is the Feast Day for St. Luke.  (Shown at left.)

Luke wrote the third-of-four Gospels, along with the book Acts of the Apostles (What is called “the fifth book of the New Testament.”)  

I’ll be writing more on Luke the Evangelist below, and in doing so I’ll be citing St. Luke – 2015.  But first I want to note a revelation I had during last Sunday’s sermon.  It was about last Sunday’s GospelMark 10:17-31(From the readings for Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost.)  It told the story of Jesus and the rich young man.

Matthew wrote that the rich young man first asked Jesus how to get “eternal life.”  (How to “get to heaven.”)  Then – after the young man told Jesus he already observed all the commandments – Jesus said:  “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.”  Luke’s Gospel added that when he heard this, the rich young man “became very sad, because he was very wealthy.”  That’s when Jesus said it would be “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

But in last Sunday’s sermon, our visiting priest asked us to imagine something different.  Like what would have happened if the young man had agreed to do what Jesus said?

That is, suppose the rich young man had actually starting selling all his possessions and giving the profits to the poor.  The priest theorized that Jesus probably would have said this:  “Stop!  I was only trying to make a point!  Let’s work something out so you can keep your goods and possessions and put them to good use in the service of the Lord…

That’s when it hit me.  The priest’s theory wasn’t all that crazy.  There was legal precedent for his position.  It struck me that it could have been very much like what God did when he asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son.  And when Abraham indicated his willingness to follow God’s orders.  On that note, see Abraham and Isaac – Where God CHANGED some “traditional values and attitudes.”

That post noted that the Abraham-Isaac story bothers a lot of people, because it seems to show God ordering a father to kill his own son.  “And that’s the view you would take if you took the lesson literally.”  But at the time Abraham lived, child sacrifice was pretty routine.  In fact, you could call it a prevailing “traditional value.”

Which means the Abraham-Isaac story is not one of God being cruel.  Instead:

“[I]n that age, it was astounding that Abraham’s God should have interposed to prevent the sacrifice, not that He should have asked for it.”  [Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz (1872 -1946)] interpreted the Akedah as demonstrating to the Jews that human sacrifice is abhorrent…  So to a reasonable Semite at the time … a father offering his son as a “sacrifice to the gods” was so common that the Akedah proved the noteworthy exception.

A note:  Akedah is Hebrew short-hand for the Abraham-Isaac story, and translates “The Binding.”

So anyway, the main point of the Abraham-Isaac story is that God never intended that Abraham actually kill Isaac.  In the same way, the point of the “Jesus and the rich young man” story could be that Jesus never wanted the rich young man to give up all his possessions.  What he wanted was the rich young man’s willingness to do so.  But mostly He wanted the rich young man to use and develop his talents, so he could put them to the “service of the Lord.”

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Which brings us back to Luke the Evangelist.  And speaking of developing your talents:  The noted Catholic writer Garry Wills – in his book What the Gospels Meant – noted that Luke wrote the longest of the four Gospels.  He added that Acts of the Apostles is almost as long, and that these two of Luke’s books together “thus make up a quarter of the New Testament.”  (And they’re longer than all 13 of Paul’s letters.)  He said Luke is rightly considered the most humane of the Gospel writers, and quoted Dante as saying Luke was a “describer of Christ’s kindness.”

Thus Luke’s Gospel was arguably the most beautiful book that ever was.”

But – again speaking of developing your talents – Luke wasn’t just a great writer.  He was also – according to tradition – an artist.  Beyond that, he was said to be the first icon painter, and to have painted pictures of the Virgin Mary and Child, as shown in the image below.

Which means Luke’s version of the Jesus story is one we should pay special attention to.  And especially to being “humane” and active practitioners of “Christ’s kindness.”

So as noted in Luke 8:8 and Luke 14:35, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

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File:Maarten van Heemskerck - St Luke Painting the Virgin and Child - WGA11299.jpg

“Saint Luke painting the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child…” 

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The upper image is courtesy of Binding of Isaac – Wikipedia.  The full caption reads: “’The Sacrifice of Isaac’ by Caravaggio, in the Baroque tenebrist manner.”  As to the wording of the caption, see “Or words to that effect” – Wiktionary, and also “Or Words to that Effect” – Adoremus Bulletin, quoting the character Richard Rich in the plan “A Man for All Seasons.”

Re:  Abraham – Wikipedia.  The caption to the image to the right of the paragraph starting “That’s when it hit me” is captioned:  “Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac. From a 14th-century missal.”

As to the “Hertz” reference, “Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz, CH (September 25, 1872 – January 14, 1946) was a Jewish Hungarian-born rabbi and Bible scholar. He is most notable for holding the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1913 until his death in 1946, in a period encompassing both world wars and the Holocaust.”  Another note, “CH” stands for “Order of the Companions of Honour,” an order of the “Commonwealth realms … as a reward for outstanding achievements and is ‘conferred upon a limited number of persons for whom this special distinction seems to be the most appropriate form of recognition.'”

Re:  “He wanted the rich young man to use and develop his talents.”  The full blog-post cite – from December 2015 – is Develop your talents with Bible study.

The lower image is courtesy of File: Maarten van Heemskerck – St Luke Painting the Virgin, and/or “Wikimedia.”  See also Maarten van Heemskerck – Wikipedia, which noted that the artist (1498-1574) was a “Dutch portrait and religious painter, who spent most of his career in Haarlem,” and did the painting above in or about 1532.

On Independence Day, 2018

A turtle biting a man carrying a barrel to a waiting ship

Thomas Jefferson‘s Embargo had many Americans “declaring independence” – from him!

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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 did.  (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:

A lot has happened since June 22 and my last post.  But to cut to the chase:  The caption for the image at the top of the page is:  “A political cartoon showing merchants dodging the ‘Ograbme,’ which is ‘Embargo‘ spelled backwards.”  As noted below, President Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 was “one of the most self-defeating laws ever passed in American history.”

For an explanation of the symbols in the cartoon, see the notes.  But the point is that even a smart guy like Thomas Jefferson could have some really stupid ideas.

And all of which also goes to show that this whole idea of independence – whether national, secular or religious – can be messy.  (If not “revolutionary.”)

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So again, a lot has happened since June 22.  Among other things, we as a nation celebrated Independence Day, July 4th.  I did a post two years ago on the holiday – Independence Day, 2016 – that went into great detail on Thomas Jefferson.  And his writing the Declaration of Independence.

And about some of the “ramifications thereof.”

One ramification is that “independence” – freedom, if you will – can be really messy.  Which brings up Wikipedia on the touchy subject of winning – and keeping – “independence:”

Whether the attainment of independence is different from revolution has long been contested, and has often been debated over the question of violence as legitimate means to achieving sovereignty.  [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the ideas of independence and revolution have long been “inextricably intertwined.”  And that idea troubles many conservatives, Christian or otherwise.

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One big reason freedom – for all people, including those “not like us” – is that so many other people seem to make so many stupid choices.  See the Prayer Book‘s Outline of the Faith:

Q.  Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?  A.  From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choicesQ.  Why do we not use our freedom as we should?  A.  Because we rebel against God, and we put ourselves in the place of God.

Which I suppose is just a way of saying freedom means the ability to make stupid choices.  See also Living Stingy:  “You can’t have freedom, unless you have the freedom to make bad choices.”

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Which brings us back to President Jefferson‘s Embargo Act of 1807.  As Wikipedia said:

”Widespread evasion of the maritime and inland trade restrictions [of the Act] by American merchants, as well as loopholes in the legislation, greatly reduced the impact of the embargo on the intended targets in Europe.”

Among other results, Great Britain gladly took over the trade routes America gave up – and lost – by and through the Embargo.  In plain words, the Embargo cost a lot of American jobs.

Another author said the Embargo Act was “one of the most self-defeating laws ever passed in American history.”  Mostly because it “took no account of economic realities.”  (Which Jefferson-supporters might have called “fake news.”)  But in the end:

The legislation was unenforceable:  goods were taken Canada and then quietly brought across the border, or smuggled in by fishing boats…  But industry and trade still suffered:  New York came close to seceding, such was the crisis it was undergoing…

All of which sounds vaguely familiar, somehow.

But getting back to the focus of this blog:  We should note July 4th is not just a secular holiday but a religious feast day(As noted in the link Independence Day.)  And speaking of unpleasant reality:  The first Bible reading for July 4 includes Deuteronomy 10:19:

When you have entered the homeland that God gives you, serve Him faithfully.  Deal generously with the alien and the homeless, for you were homeless aliens in the land of Egypt.*

Which goes to show today’s so-called “Conservative Christians” – who support the present hard-line on immigration – are arguably acting “contrary to Scripture.”

Which is why we have Ezekiel 3:16-19 (“Ezekiel’s Task as Watchman“).

As detailed in “Trump-humping” – and Christians arguing with each other, Ezekiel says that our duty as Good Christians is to warn each other.  To “argue” with each other and thus – in the process – arrive at a better understanding of “the Truth.”  (And not just yell “fake news” to any information we disagree with or can’t handle.  Or pull the “you’re going to hell” card.)

As Jesus said in John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (Which means those people who yell “fake news” are arguably also acting “contrary to Jesus.”)

But getting back to Thomas Jefferson and his role as Founding Father.  Although he made mistakes, he also did a heck of a lot of good for this country.  As noted on his tombstone:

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.

So Jefferson himself considered his writing the Statute for Religious Freedom just as important – if not more important – as his writing the Declaration of Independence.

But there’s one other big thing he did.  He took a chance and doubled the size of the then-existing United States.  He did this by the Louisiana Purchase, “one of his greatest contributions to the United States.”  (And by far “the largest territorial gain in U.S. history.”)

Which goes to show that Thomas Jefferson was not a conservative, Christian or otherwise…

He wasn’t afraid to take a chance, and he wasn’t about to be bound by “conservative strictures.”  And because of this trait, Americans had a whole new territory to explore.

Or as noted in the INTRODUCTION, the Bible itself opens up a whole new world!  (Not the crappy Old World best left behind.)  Or a “new continent opening up after Lewis and Clark:”

 So, are you ready for your own Great Exploration!!??

(That is, “Get out there and use your freedom – properly – to explore your God-given destiny…”)

Which is another way of saying that real freedom – real independence – is so exciting and rewarding precisely because you always take the chance of falling flat on your face.

Like Thomas Jefferson.

And most “conservative Christians” are afraid to do just that…

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Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase – in white – doubled the size of the existing United States… 

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The upper image is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “A political cartoon showing merchants dodging the “Ograbme”, which is “Embargo” spelled backwards (1807).”

As to the symbols in the cartoon, see “O Grab Me” Political Cartoon – Embargo of 1807:

Man to the far Left is a British man who is upset because Americans cannot and will not sell goods to the British.  The Turtle represents the American government, which is making sure that the American does not sell goods to the British.  The man carrying the barrel represents an American who wants to sell goods to make money but cannot due to the Embargo Act.

(*)  The quote for Deuteronomy 10:19 is from the “religious feast day link Independence Day.”  But see also cross references to Leviticus 19:34 – “You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” – and Ezekiel 47:22:

You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners who dwell among you and who have children.  You are to treat them as native-born Israelites; along with you, they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.

It should be noted that officially the “prayer book” referred to is the Online Book of Common Prayer. (At page 845.)  See also Wikipedia, referring to the “short title of a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion … and other Anglican Christian churches.  The original book, published in 1549 in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English Reformation.”  

Also re:  The Embargo Act of 1807.  See Wikipedia:

Most historians consider Jefferson’s embargo to have been ineffective and harmful to American interests[, and] as Jefferson’s “least effective policy…”  [Historian] Joseph Ellis calls it “an unadulterated calamity…”  Jefferson believed that the failure of the embargo was due to selfish traders and merchants showing a lack of “republican virtue.”

There’s that darn independence again… 

Re:  “Inextricably intertwined.”  See also Evidence legal definition – Quimbee.

Re:  “Another author wrote.”  The quoted portions are from Dark History of the American Presidents (Power, corruption, and scandal at the heart of the White House), by Michael Kerrigan (Amber Books, 2013 edition), at pages 41-41.

The lower image is courtesy of Louisiana Purchase – Wikipedia.

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I should also note:  The Bible readings for July 8th – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost include 2 Corinthians 12:2-10.  I described the reading in 2017’s Paul describes an out-of-body experience:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.  Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.  And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

Just in case you were interested in such things.

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As noted in the opening blurb, this blog has four main themes.  The first is that God will accept anyone.  (John 6:37, with the added, “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?

“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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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.”

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.”

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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.” )