Category Archives: Sunday Bible readings

Background and “color commentary” on the Sunday Lectionary readings

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…) 

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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…

  *   *   *   *

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

 *   *   *   *

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.

Paul restored – from the Damascus Road

“Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul” – after his Damascus road experience

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Last week’s post was Doubting Thomas – and Peter Restored. (Including the image at right.)  This week’s post is about Paul being “restored.”

He got restored from his state of “ungrace.”

As a result of that transformation, the Apostle Paul got transmogrified. I.e., changed from being the early Church’s deadliest enemy to being second only to Jesus in the history of that early Christian Church.

Note that the “Peter Restored” part of last week’s post was based on the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter.  (April 10.)  “That is, in John 21:1-19, ‘Jesus restored Peter to fellowship after Peter had previously denied him.'”  But one thing that post missed was the first reading, Acts 9:1-6, (7-20).  That reading told about Paul’s Damascus road experience.

And it continued the theme of being “restored to grace.”

But first it described Paul “in his former state” – of ungrace – beginning with this:

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

I wrote about that Pauline experience in Peter confesses, Paul converts.  (About the June 29 Feast Day that “remembers both Peter and Paul, together.”  See also St Peter and St Paul, Apostles.)

That post included the image at left, from the Conversion of St. Paul at Wikipedia.  I noted that before his Damascus road experience, Paul – originally called Saul – was a zealous “Pharisee who ‘intensely persecuted‘” the early Christian Church.

But God had other plans for him.

One example of Saul-Paul’s former life – as persecutor of the early church – was his part in the stoning of Stephen, in Acts 7:57-8:3.  (“Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”)

See also Galatians 1:13-14, where Paul wrote about his being “extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”  Accordingly, he intensely “persecuted the church of God” – that is, the new Christian Church he thought heretical –  “and tried to destroy it.”

But then he had his Damascus Road Experience.  In that experience he was literally struck blind, for three days.  Accordingly, Paul was “pretty much dragged kicking and screaming into his position of authority,” within the new Christian Church he’d formerly tried to destroy.

Bartolomeo Montagna - Saint Paul - Google Art Project.jpgThe end result?  Paul became “no less than the ‘second founder’ of Christianity.”  (Second only to Jesus that is.)  

Put another way, Paul is generally considered to be “one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age.”

Or consider this:  “Paul’s influence on Christian thinking arguably has been more significant than any other New Testament author.”  (See Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia, with the image at right.)  So one object lesson from all this could be:  “Be careful who you persecute!”

But seriously, we now turn to the readings for next Sunday, April 17. (Which this year is the Fourth Sunday of Easter.)  Among those readings is the Twenty-third Psalm.  And that psalm deserves more discussion.

See for example Psalm 23 – Wikipedia, which prompted the painting below.

Eastman Johnson painted it in 1863, and called it “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”

Wikipedia noted the painting’s imagery, including an “African-American man reading the first part of a Bible, possibly the Book of Exodus.  He is sitting against a blue jacket, which may indicate service in the Union army.”  Then there’s also this note: 

Eastman Johnson painted The Lord Is My Shepherd only months after the Emancipation Proclamation of New Year’s Day, 1863.  The image of a humble black man reading from his Bible was reassuring to white Americans uncertain of what to expect from the freed slaves. But the simple act of reading was itself a political issue.  Emancipation meant that blacks must educate themselves in order to be productive, responsible citizens.  In the slave-holding South, teaching a black person to read had been a crime;  in the North, the issue was not “May they read?” but “They must read.”

Also as to that artistic imagery, Wikipedia noted that reading man – formerly a slave – was “sitting against a blue jacket, which may indicate service in the Union army.”

That is, the reading man apparently served in the so-called “United States Colored Troops.(Established by General Order Number 143 on May 22, 1863, )  And those troops – which included “Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans and Native Americans” – were the “precursor to the Buffalo Soldier regiments of the American Old West.”

Which I suppose is a pretty good metaphor for the transforming power of Jesus


 Eastman Johnson‘s 1863 painting “The Lord is My Shepherd…”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Conversion of Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption:  “‘Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul’ (c.1631) by Pietro da Cortona.”

See also Ananias of Damascus – Wikipedia, which noted his name means “favored of the LORD.”  The actual restoration of Saul-Paul’s sight was described in Acts 9:17-19 NIV:

Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Re: Psalm 23.  Wikipedia noted that the text of the psalm, “beloved by Jews and Christians alike, is often alluded to in popular media and has been set to music many times.”  The article cited a number of examples of the psalm being set to music, including Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Cantata No.112 Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112.”

Re: the “transforming power of Jesus.”  In case I’m being too subtle, the link is to 1st Timothy 1:12-16:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me … putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor…  It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.  Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience…  (E.A.)

Also on that note, see Galatians 4:3, in the NLT:  “that’s the way it was with us before Christ came.  We were like children;  we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.”  As to the last passage, I prefer the RSV:  that “we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe.”

The lower image is courtesy of Psalm 23 – Wikipedia, which included the caption noted above.  The indented quote is courtesy of The Lord Is My Shepherd by Eastman Johnson / American Art.



Doubting Thomas – and Peter Restored

About Peter denying Jesus:  Next Sunday’s Gospel – April 10 – tells how he got “restored to grace…”

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Detail from El GrecoHere’s a heads up:  The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter is all about the Restoration of Peter.  (Peter – who became a saint – is seen at right.)  That is, in John 21:1-19, “Jesus restored Peter to fellowship after Peter had previously denied him.”  (Not just once, but three times.)

But Jesus did more than that.

He specifically charged Peter to “feed my sheep.”

Note also that this express restoration of Peter – by Jesus – is unique to John’s Gospel:

All four gospels record Peter’s denial of Jesus, and all of the synoptic gospels record how Peter “wept bitterly” after the rooster crowed.  John omits this detail [about Peter weeping bitterly], but he is unique in describing the restoration scene between Jesus and Peter.

All of which reminds us that Jesus is willing to do the same thing for us today.  That is, He’s willing to forgive and forget – referring to us – for all the times in the past that we’ve disappointed Him. (Or “fallen short.” See Romans 3:23.)  Just like He did with Peter.

For more on the shortcoming itself, see Denial of Peter.  The article noted that the “emotional turmoil and turbulent emotions behind Peter’s denial and later repentance have been the subject of major works of art for centuries.”  For example, in the painting at the top of the page (by Gerard van Honthorst):  “A young maidservant accused the apostle Peter, in the yellow cloak, of knowing Jesus Christ.  Fearing for his own safety, Peter denied the acquaintance…”

So much for the Bible readings coming up next Sunday, April 10.  (See also the notes…)

As for last Sunday (April 3), the Second Sunday of Easter (or the Sunday after Easter) is also – and always – “Doubting Thomas Sunday.”  (He’s shown at left, with Jesus.)

That’s because the Gospel for the day is always John 20:19-31.  It tells about how Doubting Thomas got his name.  (And in turn how his name became a byword for any and every “skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience.”)

One of the first posts I ever did for this blog was First musings – The readings for “Doubting Thomas” Sunday.  That post noted the term was “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.”

Which brings up the spiritual questions raised by Thomas and his “doubting.”

First of all:  “If you doubt and question your faith will it become stronger?”

In other words, how do we as Christians deal with our doubts?  About the Bible and about the life of Jesus?  Put another way:  “The flip side of that [first] question is:  ‘Should we just blindly believe?'”  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 – the ones who don’t want to stay Bible buck privates the rest of our lives – the best answer was noted in First musings:

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.)

File:Leloir - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.jpgThat – to me – was the best answer.  And for more on that idea – and position – see On arguing with God.  That post noted that Jacob got his name changed to Israel precisely because he wrestled with God.

And so he became “Patriarch of the Israelites.”

I also wrote about Thomas in Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India.”  Among other things, that post noted the key difference between “skeptical” and “cynical.”  The difference?

Being skeptical means “having reservations,” while the “main meaning of cynical is ‘believing the worst of people.”  (Or, being “distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.”)  On the other hand, the Bible itself tells us to approach the Faith with the proper sense of “reservation:”

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

See 1st John 4:1, emphasis added.  See also About Saint Thomas the Apostle.

That site said that after the Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles as a group decided who would go where, and for what missionary purpose.  And those disciples told Thomas to go to India.

He objected, saying he wasn’t healthy enough for such travel, and that “a Hebrew couldn’t possibly teach the Indians.”  Then too – like Saint Patrick – he became a literal slave:

A merchant eventually sold Thomas into slavery in India.  It was then, when he was freed from bondage that this saint began to form Christian parishes and building churches…  Thomas built a total of seven churches in India[.  He is] an example of both doubter and a staunch and loyal believer…   After all, each of us has both of these characteristics residing deep within ourselves – both moments of doubt and those of great spiritual strength…

Indeed, you might say that developing such “great spiritual strength” is only possible by having – and overcoming – those “moments of doubt.”  (See also resistance training.)

And finally, a note about two recent Daily Office Readings of interest.

The first is the New Testament reading for Thursday, April 8, 1st Peter 2:11-25.  That included 1st Peter 2:13 and 14:  “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority:  whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

For more on that thought – especially appropriate in this season of politics – see On dissin’ the Prez.  Which noted Acts 23:5:  “Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”

And finally there’s the Gospel for today, April 9, which includes John 16:12, where Jesus said:  “I have much to say to you, but you are not able to grasp it now.”  Which of course supports my theory that it doesn’t pay – spiritually – to be a “boot-camp Christian.”

In the meantime, we remembered Thomas – doubts and all – from last Sunday.  And this Sunday we remember Peter, who first denied Jesus three times, then got “restored to grace…”

*   *   *   *

Christ’s Charge to Peter, in which Jesus is both “forgiving and stern…”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of the link Denial of Peter, in Restoration of Peter – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption: “The Denial of St. Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (1622-24).”  The description of the painting is courtesy of The Denial of St. Peter – ArtsConnectEd.

 For more on forgiving and forgetting, see Does the Bible instruct us to forgive and forget?

The four readings for the Third Sunday of Easter – April 10 – are:  Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)Psalm 30Revelation 5:11-14, and John 21:1-19.

For more on St.Thomas in this post, see On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas.” 

The lower image is courtesy of Restoration of Peter – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Christ’s Charge to Peter,” by Peter Paul Rubens (circa 1616).  As to the forgiving and stern:  “Paul Barnett notes that Jesus’ approach to Peter in John 21 is ‘both forgiving and stern.'”

An Annunciation-Good Friday anamoly

Johann Schröder‘s interpretation of the Annunciation, which this year falls on Good Friday…  

*   *   *   *

Here’s an anomaly, having to do with this year’s Good Friday.  (An anomaly is “odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, quality, etc.”  Either that or an “incongruity.”)

This year, Good Friday falls on March 25.  But by tradition, March 25 is also the day when we celebrate the Annunciation.  So this year – on the same day we remember Jesus being hung on a cross – we would normally also celebrate “the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.”  However:

The Annunciation would normally fall on Friday, March 25, 2016. That day, however, is Good Friday, and Annunciation is never celebrated during Holy Week.  It is transferred, therefore, to Monday, April 4, 2016, the first open day after Easter Sunday.

See, as to the question, When Is Annunciation 2016?

And speaking of the Annunciation, last year I posted The Annunciation “gets the ball rolling.”  I noted the metaphor of how the original early Church Fathers got that March 25 date by “figuring it backwards:”

It all started with the birth of Jesus.  The early Church Fathers decided first that the celebration would be on December 25. (For reasons explained further below.)  Then they figured backwards, nine months.  Since they said Jesus was born on December 25, He had to have been “conceived” on the previous March 25.  That’s where the Annunciation comes in.

And incidentally, the image above left is El Greco‘s interpretation of the Annunciation.

I also noted how December 25 got picked as Jesus’ birthday.  It had to do with the winter solstice, “the shortest day and the longest night of the year.”  Back in the olden days, our primitive ancestors started worrying; “there was never any certainty that the sinking Sun would ever return…   So about mid-December those old-time people kept worrying that the days would keep getting shorter and  shorter, until there was nothing but eternal night.”

Which makes that the perfect complement to Good Friday, on which the liturgical color is black.

That is, beginning at the end of the evening Maundy Thursday service – in the Western church – the altar is stripped.  Also, “the clergy no longer wear the purple or red that is customary throughout Great Lent, but instead don black vestments.”

But as we know, there is a happy ending.

For more on particular-church practices on Good Friday, see Wikipedia.  But the general theme is revisiting “the events of the day through public reading of specific Psalms and the Gospels, and singing hymns about Christ’s death.”  Other practices include fasting and acts of reparation.

Also, “the Stations of the Cross are often prayed either in the church or outside, and a prayer service may be held from midday to 3.00 pm, known as the Three Hours’ Agony.”

But during all those Good Friday hours of fasting, penance and remembering, don’t forget the real “reason for the season.”

That would be exemplified by the El Greco painting at right.

That painting “shows Jesus – the Risen Messiah – ‘in a blaze of glory … holding the white banner of victory over death.’”  (See also On Easter Season – AND BEYOND.)

Note also that the Annunciation is celebrated about the time of the vernal equinox(Vernal is from the Latin word for “spring.”)

Which brings up the matter of the Incarnation.  See Wikipedia:

The Incarnation … is the belief that [Jesus], “became flesh” by being conceived in the womb of Mary…   [The idea is that the Son of God] took on a human body and nature and becameboth man and God.  In the Bible its clearest teaching is in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…”  The Incarnation is commemorated and celebrated each year at Christmas, and also reference can be made to the Feast of the Annunciation;  “different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation” are celebrated at Christmas and the Annunciation.

(See also Liturgical year – Wikipedia.)  In other words, before Jesus could perform His greatest miracle, he had to pay the price of going through Good Friday.

And that could be another way of saying that both the Good Friday Experience and the Joyful Easter Experience that followed were all part of the rich tapestry of life.   On the part of Jesus, that is.  (And through Him, something we can experience as well…)

Which in turn is another way of saying “When one door closes, another one opens.”

That’s a famous saying, and it’s variously attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, or to Helen Keller, or to “the 21st chapter of Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes’s classic, “Don Quixote.” (And incidentally, here’s the rest of the quote:  “…but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”)

So here’s the real reason for the season:  To remember the door that Jesus “opened for us.”

*   *   *   *

Mihály Munkácsy‘s depiction of “behold the man” with Jesus and Pontius Pilate

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Annunciation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “The Annunciation – Johann Christian Schröder.”  As to Good Friday on the same date at the Annunciation:

Because the sacrifice of Jesus through his crucifixion is commemorated on this day, the Divine Liturgy (the sacrifice of bread and wine) is never celebrated on Great Friday, except when this day coincides with the Great Feast of the Annunciation, which falls on the fixed date of 25 March (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar

Re: “rich tapestry.”  See also quotes and quotations on the tapestry of life, and/or America A Rich Tapestry Of Life « NaegeleBlog.

The lower image is courtesy of the Ecce Homo link in Annunciation – Wikipedia.   

Moses, the Burning Bush, “et alia”

Moses and the Burning Bush – subject of next Sunday’s Old Testament Bible-reading…



The last time I reviewed the next-Sunday Bible readings was November 30, 2015.  (On Advent – 2015.)  But this next Sunday, February 28, 2016, I’ll be up front, serving as lay reader and chalicist.  (chalice is shown at left.)

Accordingly, it would behoove me to get familiar with those readings.

You can see the full readings at Third Sunday in Lent.

Those readings include:  1) Exodus 3:1-15 (on Moses and the Burning bush);  Psalm 63:1-9 (the psalm I call “Patton’s psalm … both humble and defiant”); and 1st Corinthians 10:1-13 (Paul’s “warning against idolatry.”)  They’re the ones I’ll be reading up front.

The Gospel – Luke 13:1-9 – will be read by “Father Paul.”

And a BTW:  The theme of that Gospel is “repent or perish.”  On the other hand, you could also say the Gospel is on a metaphoric “fig tree that bears no fruit.”  (And in turn you could say that ties in with the last post, on Conservative Christians content to stay “career buck privates.”)

Also incidentally,  et alia is Latin for “and others.” (As in, readings on Moses “and others.”) 

You can see the full Old Testament reading at Exodus 3:1-15.  For one interpretation, see Burning bush – Wikipedia, which said “the burning bush is the location at which Moses was appointed by Adonai (God) to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.”

The article noted other interpretations, including that Moses “may have been under the influence of a hallucinogenic substance when he witnessed the burning bush.”

(Note also Mount Horeb – where Moses saw the Burning bush – is where he later “struck the rock” and got water, shown at right.)

And finally, the Burning bush article directed the reader to “see also” the article on Theophany.

For another take, see The great religious leaders, a 1958 book by Charles F. Potter (1885-1962).  Potter was a “Unitarian minister, theologian and author.”  In 1923-1924, he became “nationally known through a series of debates with Dr. John Roach Straton, a fundamentalist Christian.”

And for starters, Potter noted the “pre-Mosaic religion of the Hebrews was a mixture of animism and fetishism.” (43)  But that all started to change when Moses had his theophany, his experience with the burning bush. (37)  The upshot?  Moses got commissioned by God in Exodus 3:10:  “I am sending you to Pharaoh.  You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.

Or as Potter put it, he got the divine call to every prophet:   A “great wrong to be righted, a task to be done, and then a sudden blinding realization that the task is one’s own.” (43)

Potter noted several important factors about this theophany of Moses.  One was that in all such experiences, “the hearing of the prophet seems much more acute than his vision.” (38)  See also Exodus 3:6, “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”

But perhaps more important:  A “new religion does well to build on the old.” (38)  And so, during his lengthy stay with his family – in exile, in Midian – Moses may have recalled some of the things he learned during the first part of his life, when he was a literal Prince of Egypt.

That is, he may have combined the “traditions of the fathers” with some things he learned as a “Prince of Egypt.”  In doing so he went on to forge a sense of collective self in the Children of Israel.  They became strong enough to go back and re-conquer their ancient Promised Land.

That is, Potter indicated that as such a Prince of Egypt, Moses was likely familiar with Akhenaten.  (Seen at left.)  He was the “heretic king” who had ruled Egypt a mere century before Moses. (36)

Briefly, Akhenaten introduced the idea of one God to Egypt – monotheism – but Egyptians just weren’t ready for that.  (They liked “traditional Egyptian polytheism.”  See Wikipedia.)

And so after his death the Egyptians abandoned Akhenaten‘s “new-fangled religion” and went back to their old ways.  But in the mind of Moses, Akhenaten‘s One God may have taken new form.

Recalling his suffering fellow Hebrews in Egypt, Moses may have thought this way:

The great gods of Egypt could not  be expected, of course, to help the Hebrews…  If only they had one great god to help them now!  Then Moses remembered the heretic [Akhenaten]…  [Perhaps] there was one great god, greater even than Aten.  Perhaps this unknown god had caused all things, even the sun, and really cared for suffering human beings, and would deliver the Hebrews from bondage and help them escape to some better land!

(36-37, emphasis in original.)  That was of course a nice thing to think about God.  (That “He” might redeem a nation of illiterate slaves.)  But then Moses realized this “new God” wanted him to do the “legwork.”  And so – not surprisingly – Moses protested his new assignment.  “Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'”

Among other concerns, Moses knew the great God of the Burning bush was not the “God of their fathers” to the Hebrews back in Egypt.  (Remember theiranimism and fetishism…”)

Moses also knew that this stubborn people – his fellow Hebrews who had not been “princes of Egypt” – would not “accept a totally new God.”  (Or a new religion.)  So he had to build on the past, as shown in Exodus 6:3.  There God told Moses,I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai – ‘God Almighty’ – but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them.

In other words, before Moses appeared, “God” had apparently only appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  (And then only as El Shaddai.)  It was not until the time after Moses that God appeared to the Children of Israel as Yahweh.  And so, after his “Burning bush experience,”  Moses went on to forge a new nation from a group of exiled, illiterate slaves:

Moses made the Hebrew tribes into a nation by giving them a God … but that God was not made de novo.  With [his] wisdom in dealing with men … Moses conveyed to his people the idea of one great personal God by using concepts already at hand…  His was the task of leading a people from animism to monotheism … and he did a piece of work which deserves admiration…  [T]o Moses belongs the glory of the pioneer.

(42-43)  And it all started with that “burning bush” experience.  Which is one big reason Potter said of Moses, “His burning bush still lights our world.” (61)

So as a result of all this, I have been able to both review next Sunday’s Bible readings, and continue work on My Lenten meditation.  (See also two birds with one stone.)

70 patton.jpgTurning to Psalm 63:1-9, I reviewed it in “Patton,” Sunday School teacher:

He cursed like a sailor and believed in reincarnation, but Patton was a devout Episcopalian, as shown in the film [Patton, a poster for which is seen at right] starring George C. Scott.  For example, Patton was at a low point in his career during World War II [and] was almost sent home in disgrace, but he found comfort in Psalm 63.

Turning to 1st Corinthians 10:1-13 (ESV), it includes a passage on Moses’ Children of Israel being “under the cloud,” passing through the sea, and “baptized into Moses.”  It also includes this passage, that “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful, and … with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

And finally,  Luke 13:1-9 includes the Parable of the barren fig tree.  Not to be confused with the parable of the cursing the fig tree in Matthew 21:18-22.  Though both parables have “very similar wording,” the Luke 13:6-9 parable is about a “fig tree which does not produce fruit.”

Which arguably brings us back to Conservative Christian – “Career buck private?”



The upper image is courtesy of Moses and the Burning Bush painting Bourdon Sebastien.  See also Moses and the Burning Bush – Hermitage Museum, which said of the 1642-45 painting:

Bourdon’s work bears evident traces of his religious belief and the constant inner opposition of his Protestantism, which he was obliged to conceal, to the Catholic surroundings…  The shepherd Moses, who tended his flock on Mount Horeb, saw an angel in the burning bush. When he drew closer to have a better look and understand how the bush was aflame but not consumed, God called to him from the very centre of the flames and revealed His name to Moses, making him His chosen one.  The Lord instructed Moses to go to the Pharaoh and lead the oppressed sons of Israel out of Egypt.  Moses covered his face with his hands, since he was afraid to look upon God.

Re: “chalicist.”  See also Chalice – Wikipedia, which includes the image in the text.

The “Moses striking the rock” image is courtesy of Mount Horeb – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Moses Striking the Rock at Horeb, engraving by Gustave Doré from ‘La Sainte Bible,’ 1865.”

References to Potter’s The great religious leaders are from the 493-page Simon and Schuster edition (NY 1958).  The book is sub-titled “A revision and updating of ‘The Story of Religion‘ in light of recent discovery and research including the Qumran Scrolls.”  Story of Religion was published in 1929.

Pages 36-43.  Part of Chapter II, on Moses, “who discovered the personality of God.”  The subtitled portions included in the quoted material include:  the Meditations of Moses; the Theophany; the significance of the burning bush; sacred localities; sacred trees and shrubs; sacred lights; not consumed; Moses protests; “Changing Gods;” and “Early Hebrew Animism.”

On a related note, in writing about Zoroaster – at page 69 – Potter said:

It is impossible for any mystic to describe his own trance temperately and accurately.  There seem to be … two common elements in these calls which come to prophets.  They all speak of a great light or flame and they are all commissioned to preach.  Paul on the Damascus road or Moses by the burning bush or Zoroaster by the bank of the Daiti – brothers all.

(That “clunk” you heard may have been a Southern Baptist going into apoplexy.)

The lower image is courtesy of Parable of the barren fig tree – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Jan Luyken etching of the parable, Bowyer Bible.”

On Jesus as a teenager – REDUX

James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.jpg


Before getting into Jesus as a teenager, note that the upcoming February 15 is Transfiguration Sunday.

On that note, see On Exodus (Part II) and Transfiguration, a post I did last year at this time.  That post noted that the Last Sunday of the Epiphany season is also – by tradition – known as Transfiguration Sunday.  That’s based on the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus – in its earliest form, in Mark 9:2–8.  (I erroneously wrote that it was in “Mark 9:29.”)

Among other things, that post talked about the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings.  Specifically, it talked of how the movie painted a picture of Moses that was the “opposite of what we’ve been led to expect for other reasons.  For one thing he hears voices, strange and unknown, just like Jesus.”  (Like Jesus):

“I fasted for three months.  I even whipped myself before I went to sleep.  At first it worked.  Then the pain came back.  And the voices.  They call me by the name: Jesus.”

I noted that this was not unlike the idea that “‘Jesus may not have known the minute He was born who He was.”  That is, that Jesus may have “found out some time later in His life” just who He was, just like Moses had to have experienced.

That post also noted that Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land, even after leading the Children of Israel through 40 years of Wandering in the Wilderness.  However- with the Transfiguration of Jesus – Moses finally was allowed to enter that Promised Land.  And that, even though it was a thousand years or more after he expected to.  (Which just goes to show that God’s timetable may not be anything like the timetables we expect in our lives.)

But getting back to Jesus as a teenager:  That post asked the musical question:

What did Jesus know, and when did He know it?

In other words, did Jesus know that He was the First-born Son of God when He was a teenager.

Which raises a host of other questions.  For example, if Jesus did know that He was in fact the First-born Son of God – as a teenager – He could see into the future.  And He would know – absolutely – everything that ever was or ever had been.

So maybe – as a teenager – Jesus did know everything there ever was to know, and everything possible that ever could be known.  Yet there He was, stuck in that backwater, hayseed town of Nazareth, far away from any possible excitement, like what He might find in Jerusalem.

And, probably the worst thing of all for Him was that He had to take orders from older people, people who He knew didn’t know a fraction of what He knew about “real life.”  Of course:

Since every teenager in the world has felt exactly the same way – since the beginning of time – how could the people in Nazareth know this teenager was any different?

*   *   *   *

Transfiguration by Lorenzo Lotto

“The Transfiguration, where Moses realized a centuries-old dream…”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of James Dean – Wikipedia.  The caption: “Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.”  The article noted, “Dean’s premature death … cemented his legendary status.”

As to the word “redux” in the title, see the notes to On “Job the not patient” – REDUX:

It’s an allusion to the 1971 book by John Updike, Rabbit Redux … about an aging high-school basketball star – Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom – as he went through five decades of life… See Wikipedia [which] added that the word redux means “brought back” or “restored…” Wikipedia also noted, “Rabbit Redux led to a redux in popularity of the word redux…” 

Re: Last year’s post on Exodus … and Transfiguration.  In that post I erroneously wrote that the “account of the Transfiguration of Jesus” was described in “Mark 9:29.”)

The lower image was borrowed from earlier posts including On the readings for October 26, and in turn is courtesy of The Transfiguration of Christ – Lorenzo Lotto –

On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas”

Saint Nicholas” – the bearded guy in the middle – “saves three innocents from death…”


The next major feast day – not counting the Hanukkah “festival of lights” – is December 21, for St. Thomas, Apostle.  (The link is to the day’s Bible readings.)  He’s known as the original Doubting Thomas, because he initially refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But there is one big problem.  December 21st falls right in the middle of the Season of Advent.

LHS sunstones.jpg(Not to mention it’s the shortest day of the year, as shown at right.)

So to avoid conflict, his day got changed to July 3.  (Though us traditionalists still celebrate his day on December 21.)  And of his four readings, John 20:24-29 gave the nutshell:

Thomas … was not with the other disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails … I will not believe…”  A week later [Thomas was there when  Jesus came and said], “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!

Jesus then noted that while Thomas believed because he had actually seen Him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Which of course means us.

(And BTW, I covered Hanukkah in “Ordinary?” Maccabees?  That festival of light “commemorates the victory of the ancient Israelites over the Syrian Greek army.”  Those Israelites were the Maccabee family and followers, “Jewish Freedom Fighters, a century or two before Jesus was born.”)

So anyway, for more on Thomas, see Doubting Thomas’ “passage to India.”  That post noted that “even to this day many people still don’t believe,” in Jesus or the Faith.  (To such people, “the tale of the resurrection must be put down to legend.”)  But if the story had ended without the Resurrection, the Christian Faith wouldn’t have grown as it did:

[E]ven if we take the rationalist view that there was no resurrection in reality, it cannot be denied that there was one in the belief of the disciples and, eventually, of hundreds of millions of men – and that made all the difference. (E.A.)

In other words, if it hadn’t been for the millions upon millions of people who came to believe, “the history of the world would be ‘enormously different.'”  On that note, “even some atheists admit that – taken as a whole – Christianity has had a positive influence on history.”

As for how Thomas ended up:  Tradition says he got sold into slavery, in India.  (Like Saint Patrick, he became a literal slave.)  But despite the setback, he ultimately got free and carried “the Faith to the Malabar coast, which still boasts a large native population calling themselves ‘Christians of St. Thomas:'”

St. Thomas is especially venerated as The Apostle in India [and is]  upheld as an example of both doubter and a staunch and loyal believer in Christ…   After all, each of us has both of these characteristics residing deep within ourselves – both moments of doubt and those of great spiritual strength…

And then of course there’s good old “Santa Claus.”  He was originally “Nikolaos the Wonder-worker.”  See The original St. Nicholas.  (From which the upper image was borrowed):

Saint Nicholas, also called Nicholas of Bari or Nicholas of Myra [is] one of the most popular minor saints commemorated in the Eastern and Western churches and now traditionally associated with the festival of Christmas.  In many countries children receive gifts on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day.

In other words, our Santa Claus is based on a “historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra.”  (“Original St. Nicholas” also explored the question why we celebrate Christmas on December 25, “if Saint Nicholas Day is December 6.”)

As to the image at the top of the page, here’s how the original St. Nicholas saved three innocents from death:

Nicholas was visiting a remote part of his diocese [when he heard of the “three innocents.”  He set out for home and] found a large crowd of people and the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow.  Nicholas passed through the crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed from their bonds.  His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell…

So like St. Ambrose of Milan, the original “St. Nick” was both a real person and personally brave. (See An early Advent medley.)  And that’s not to mention generous.

So for today’s post we remember both St. Nicholas and “Doubting Thomas.”  (Who apparently lived to a ripe old age, as shown in the image below…)


Peter Paul Rubens: St Thomas

St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens


The upper image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center … Saint Who Stopped an Execution:

Re: “Hanukkah.”  See also Hanukkah 2015 – My Jewish Learning, which noted that Hanukkah 2015 began at sunset on Sunday, December 6, and ended – at sunset – on Monday, December 14.  That’s because a Jewish “day” begins and ends at sunset, not midnight.  See Judaism 101.

Re:  Thomas the Apostle.  See also “Doubting Thomas” Sunday, and Wikipedia:  

When the feast of Saint Thomas was inserted in the Roman calendar in the 9th century, it was assigned to 21 December.  The Martyrology of St. Jerome mentioned the apostle on 3 July, the date to which the Roman celebration was transferred in 1969 [to avoid interference with] Advent.  3 July was the day on which his relics were translated from Mylapore [to] Mesopotamia.  Traditionalist Roman Catholics …  and many Anglicans … still celebrate his feast day on 21 December.

Re: Other readings for his day.  They are Habakkuk 2:1-4, Psalm 126, and Hebrews 10:35-11-1

The image below the winter solstice “miniature” is courtesy of Resurrection of Jesus – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Chi Rho” – one of the earliest forms of christogram – “and with a wreath symbolizing the victory of the Resurrection, above Roman soldiers, ca. 350.”

The lower image is courtesy of Thomas the Apostle – Wikipedia.