Monthly Archives: July 2016

On the Transfiguration of Jesus – 2016

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The next major feast day coming up is The Transfiguration of Jesus, on August 6.  I wrote about the day in last year’s Transfiguration – The Greatest Miracle in the World.

One key quote noted that this Transfiguration “stands as an allegory of the transformative nature” of the Bible-faith.  (Indicating a “marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.”)  Other key quotes from the post include that God has His own time-table, noted above.  And that as a result, Bible-explorers generally learn quickly that patience is definitely a virtue.

Which definitely applied to Moses.  The thing is, while Moses was allowed to view the Promised Land – from the top of Mount Nebo – he wasn’t allowed to actually enter the Promised Land.

That is, not until a thousand years or so after he died.  That’s when he appeared with Jesus, along with Elijah, when Jesus was being “transfigured” on Mount Tabor:

Moses finally entered the Promised Land – [at] the Transfiguration – albeit a Millennium [a thousand years] after he expected…  Moses died some seven miles due east of the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, inside Jordan [on Mount Nebo], while in the Transfiguration he “met up” with Jesus on Mount Tabor, inside Israel and 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

And by the way, that part about “the greatest miracle in the world” came from Thomas Aquinas: “Thomas Aquinas considered the Transfiguration ‘the greatest miracle’ in that it complemented baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven.”  Others note that all the other miracles of Jesus involved Him doing things for other people.

But unlike the other miracles of Jesus, this one happened to Him.

moses viewing the promised land from mount nebo by robert dowling

You can get the full story at the Greatest Miracle in the World post.  Or see On Exodus (Part II) and Transfiguration.

But another key thing to remember is that the Transfiguration shows that God always keeps His promises, even though His time-table may be different than ours.

That is, the Transfiguration “fulfilled a centuries-old dream for Moses, who God kept from the Promised Land. (See Why was God so upset with Moses and Why Moses [couldn’t] enter the Promised Land, as illustrated at right.)

In the meantime, I’m on a pilgrimage of my own.

I wrote a while back that this “may be the last post I’ll publish for awhile… Next Tuesday – July 26 – I’ll be heading north to Skagway, Alaska.  From there I’ll spend four days hiking the Chilkoot Trail.  (The ‘meanest 33 miles in history.’)  Once that’s done, my brother and I will spend 16 days canoeing down the Yukon River, from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

“Assuming I survive all that, I should be back in business some time after August 29.”

“But stay tuned.  There may well be ‘further bulletins as events warrant!'”

Calvin and Hobbes

Here then, is one of those “further bulletins.”

I’m finishing this post up in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, on Thursday, July 28.  Going back to Tuesday, July 26, we made it to Great Falls, Montana.  This was after driving 560 miles:  “That means it’s about 120 miles to the Canadian border – unless they’ve built a wall or something.”

The  next day we made it to Drayton Valley, Alberta.  (West and a bit south of Edmonton.)

It took about 30 minutes to get through customs, and from there into Alberta, but once through customs and on the road “we saw a ton of these yellow plants, fields and fields of them.  It turns out they are Canola plants” – as shown below – “and they’re quite the cash crop:”

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From Drayton Valley, today we made it to Fort Nelson, British Columbia.  In America-talk, it runs from Mile-marker 301 to 308. (On the famed Alaska Highway.)  But they use kilometers here.

That means when the speed sign says “Maximum 110,” you have to calculate kilometers to miles and figure that means about 65 mph on your dashboard.  And that when the speed sign says “40,” that means you have to slow down about 25 mph.

And the gas prices are unbelievable!  We saw signs in Alberta that said “96.9.”  Unfortunately, that was the price for a liter, or one-fourth of a gallon.  So to get the “American” price you have to multiply that by 4 and get gas at $3.87.

Also today, we passed through Dawson Creek, B.C., about 3:00 this afternoon.  It’s the southern end of the Alaska Highway, as shown at right.  And on the way we “gained an hour.”  Once we crossed into British Columbia, 3:00 p.m. magically became 2:00 p.m.

Tomorrow we’ll continue, heading up to Whitehorse and Skagway.  Monday the three of us will start that four-day hike on the Chilkoot Trail.  In the meantime, there will be “further bulletins as events warrant.”

But on August 6, I’ll be sure to pause to remember the Transfiguration.  (As shown below.)

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 The original post had an upper image courtesy of Moses on Mount Nebo – Robert Hawke Dowling – Athenaeum. Unfortunately, in developing the post on “Transfiguration – 2020,” I saw that that image had somehow disappeared. But for purposes of completeness I’ll include the following on the artist:

Dowling – whose middle name is spelled alternately as “Hawke” or “Hawker” – was born in England in 1827, the youngest son of Rev. Henry Dowling.  He and his parents moved Tasmania in 1839, but after taking art lessons – and showing an artistic aptitude – he moved to London in 1856.  In the next 20 years or so he exhibited 16 of his paintings at the Royal Academy.  Around 1882 he moved back to Tasmania, then to Melbourne , Australia, where he painted portraits.  He returned to London in 1886, “but died shortly after his arrival.”  Other online biographies noted that as a youth “he was deeply impressed by the tragedy of the Tasmanian Aboriginals.”

The colorful image just below “In the meantime” is courtesy of Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, a website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.  The article added that in the painting, Moses and Elijah symbolically represented “the Law and the Prophets.”  Further, Moses and Elijah also “represent the living and the dead.”  (Elijah represented “the living, because he was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire.”  Moses represents “the dead, because he did experience death.” 

The smaller image of Moses on Mount Nebo is courtesy of Robert Dowling Auction Results – Robert Dowling on artnet.  The alternate title is Moses viewing the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, 1879.

The cartoon image is courtesy Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, October 25, 1986.

I borrowed the lower image from a prior post, On the Bible and mysticism.  Courtesy of Christian mysticism Wikipedia, it has the caption:  “Transfiguration of Jesus depicting him with Elijah, Moses and 3 apostles by Carracci, 1594.”  The site said church practices like “the Eucharist, baptism and the Lord’s Prayer all become activities” noted for both their “ritual and symbolic values.”  Further, “Jesus’ conception, in which the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, and his Transfiguration, in which he is briefly revealed in his heavenly glory, also become important images for meditation.”

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.” )