What if…Speculation that Hopefully Won’t Get Me Condemned as a Heretic

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

My favorite guy to listen to right now, Bill Creasy, likes to bring up the fact that our Patron Saint, St. Paul would have been present in Jerusalem for all of the happenings during Holy Week. How could he not, he was learning under the greatest rabbi of the time Gamaliel, who himself was a member of the council, so he lived in Jerusalem. So Paul, his student, would of course live there as well.

As the various scenes played out with Jesus, of course it would draw the attention of Gamaliel and Paul. So we can imagine them present in the crowd the next day as Jesus is laying into the leaders of the various religious groups who are trying to test this man from Nazareth.

Now comes the interesting part that is absolutely not stated in the text but is not so wildly speculative that we could dismiss outright. Since Paul was in Jerusalem at this time, and he was a scholar in the law, what if the young lawyer who approaches Jesus in the Gospel lesson today is actually a young Saul of Tarsus. Here is how it would play out:

Paul and Gamaliel are present at all the encounters from the Triumphal entry forward and are, today, present as Jesus encounters the religious leaders in the Temple. As Paul blusters and stammers in frustration of the events unfolding in front of him, he notices Gamaliel becoming strangely pensive. Each group takes their turn trying to expose Jesus, and Gamaliel, who at first was providing a running commentary to Paul, with each encounter was becoming quieter and quieter, while Paul on the other hand was becoming more and more indignant.

As the Sadducees take their turn to poke holes in his theology only to be silenced by his mastery, Paul turns to Gamaliel for direction, but he too is silent. So Paul takes an opportunity: the old man is missing it, so I must step forward. Who knows, maybe this will be the occasion which will allow me to step out of his shadow and make a name for myself.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” There, let’s see where he goes from here.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Paul, like everyone before him, is silenced. Oh my gosh. He is right. I never thought about it that way before.

Then Jesus turned to the group of Pharisees: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” When they answered “The son of David,” Paul, still a little taken aback, thought of course.

“How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [the Christ] Lord, saying ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? Ok, he is quoting Psalm 110 a psalm about the Messiah. Where is he going with this?

“If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” DID HE JUST SAY WHAT I THINK HE JUST SAID?! Did he just claim to be greater than the greatest King God has ever given to the people? Who does this guy think he is? Sure he is smart and all, but I’m smart too. These guys around me aren’t saying anything, so now might not be the time, but this guy has got to go. He is uttering blasphemy—claiming to be greater than God’s anointed son.

This sets Paul off. He and Gamaliel go round and round that day and all the days following until Jesus is crucified. “There, see, I was right. He can’t possibly have been the Messiah because look what they just did to him.” And with the death of Jesus and Gamaliel’s weird passivity (which, tradition tells us was the result of Gamaliel’s secret conversion to Christianity along with Nicodemus), Paul decides to separate from his teacher, as he has obviously just passed Gamaliel in knowledge and understanding. From now on it will be Paul’s name that people will associate with the greatest teacher. And to show his dedication, Paul aggressively squashes the followers of this “Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.”

Paul does such a good job that he advances quickly and with the death of Stephen, a deacon in their Church, Paul steps to the forefront of the oppression. He scatters all the people in Jerusalem gathered for Pentecost. He clears them from all of the houses in town by dragging them all off to prison. When that is finished Paul goes to Caiaphas and obtains a letter of introduction to the synagogue in Damascus. Damascus is the head of the snake. If he can get there, he stops the spread of this disease before it can spread to the rest of the world. All trade routes bottleneck at Damascus.

As he approached Damascus, a bright light from heaven flashed around him. It was as if the world was ripped open and Heaven shone through. Paul was blinded and fell to the ground. As he landed he heard a voice like thunder issuing from the clouds: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

Paul’s eyes were seared shut by the encounter, but with his outward vision impaired, his inner vision could begin to emerge from the slumber that he had forced on it ever since he heard Jesus talking in the Temple. Jesus?! You mean that guy from back in Jerusalem? Was he really the Messiah and I missed it? If he did this to me, then what he said back then must have been the truth—he truly is greater than David since I just witnessed him in heaven. Maybe I have gotten this thing all wrong. Can I truly have been that blind?

Beloved, what Paul and the rest of the crowd confronting Jesus lacked that day was the spiritual eyes to see the truth. Jesus was the son of David in the flesh—Matthew makes this very clear in his genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel. But he was also the Lord of David as God. All the various groups failed to recognize that which is why they had no retort when Jesus asks them the question: “If David then calls the Christ Lord, how is he his son?”

They saw a man. Paul saw a man—a man who spoke blasphemy—unless it wasn’t. That day Paul’s eyes were darkened to the point that he was willing to kill to suppress this uprising heresy. It was not until Paul encountered Jesus in his full divinity that he became aware of just how blind he had been. Then he goes to Ananias who lays his hand on him and fills Paul with the Holy Spirit and those old, dead eyes fell from his face revealing the atrophied, inner spiritual eyes beneath and finally allowing them to see the full light of day.

With his vision restored, Paul goes on to do great things in the name of the Lord. The passion he had for suppressing an ungodly uprising in his beloved religion, was now given true vision and enlighten to see the uprising as a true act of God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, that passion caused him to spread the gospel throughout the entire world.

God grant that we too can have our eyes as wide open.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen

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Game, Set, D’OH!

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Have you ever felt like you had the perfect plan, only to have it blow up in your face?

In the timeline of our story, we are still in Holy Week. Though it’s been a couple weeks for us, Jesus entered Jerusalem just yesterday, and everything was going exactly according to plan until Jesus arrived at the Temple where he was supposed to go show himself to the high priest Caiaphas and be proclaimed king, thus starting the revolution. Instead Jesus goes no further than the money changers and wrecks the place. If you will remember, it is almost Passover and the size of the town is swelling with all the pilgrims coming to offer their sacrifices.

The sacrifice that must be made is the best one has to offer. In order to make a sacrifice to the Lord, one had to first cleanse themselves from sin. Leviticus tells us that a sin offering requires a bull without blemish. You can’t offer yourself to God without first dealing with your sins—that would be highly offensive, so this will cover any sins you have committed against God. Then, if there are any sins against a neighbor, after having spoken with the person and obtained their forgiveness, a ram, also without blemish, is offered at the Temple. Now that any offensive sins are out of the way, the sacrifice to God can be made.

The sacrifice to God is also a male, also without blemish, from either the herd or the flock. It was also the best you had to offer. The prize winning bull from the fair—load him up and place him on the altar. Why? Because he was the best you have to offer, and he was male so he could provide you with a bunch of offspring at any given time; anything less is asking God to give you His best blessing (because really who wants the second-best blessing), while not presenting your best in return. The scales don’t balance; best can only be countered with best.

Now we encounter a problem for the pilgrims living outside of Jerusalem. Let’s take Capernaum as our test case. If you were to take these three animals and drive them the roughly 100 miles to Jerusalem (from Farmer’s Branch to Waco), the animals that are required to be without blemish, tend to acquire many blemishes along the way. So the Temple provides a service for you. They would sell animals there so you could actually follow the letter of the Law and your animals would be without blemish.
Now, not being in the business of buying prize-winning bulls, I don’t know exactly what they cost but I’m fairly certain they aren’t cheap. Add to that inflation due to supply and demand and you are looking at a pretty steep cost. Apparently, getting right with God costs a lot. So the people would say, “Well I don’t have that much, so what is the next best? Oooo that much huh? What about third?” One could justify it since the price of the bull that was to be offered was only that much so, ok.

Then came the payment. Oops, can’t take that blasphemous Roman money—it has Caesar’s picture on it and some consider him divine. But luckily there are Temple shekels and they are perfectly fine. But they too come with an exchange rate that has skyrocketed due to the increase of people. Is it any wonder why Jesus gets so offended? The people in charge of the Temple are making it so that the average person cannot offer their best. Due to inflation, the average person can only afford to offer ole Lucky—the three legged goat with an overbite, missing half his teeth, and only one good eye—a far cry from without blemish.

After justifiably wrecking the place, Jesus returns the next day and has quite the encounter with the religious officials. Now a great crowd has gathered around Jesus and the religious leaders. Can you blame them? This is like watching Ali-Frazier “The Fight of the Century,” only to have both fighters walk back in the ring for Ali-Frazier II the next day. Of course there was a huge crowd witnessing this. And Jesus has the religious leaders on the ropes with the various parables thrown at them.

But the Pharisees re-group and come up with a plan as to how they can turn the tables on Jesus and publically embarrass him since he is doing such a good job of embarrassing them in front of this huge gathering. The Pharisees spot in the crowd a group of Herodians and send their young disciples over to them to bring them into the fray.

The Herodians were a group of Jews who got theior name because they were supporters of the Herodian family. King Herod was king, not by divine favor, ala David, but because the Romans placed him there. The Herods were also Idumeans –Edomites—one of Israel’s great adversaries in the Old Testament—stemming all the way back to the struggle between Jacob and Esau. The name Edom means “red” and the moniker was given to him once he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of red stew or a mess of pottage.

The Herodian Dynasty began when Julius Caesar placed Herod the Great’s father Herod Antipater as procurator of Judea in 47 B.C. So the Herods were very pro-Rome since that is the only way they had the right to rule. The Herodians were Jews who had no problems paying taxes to Caesar because he kept them in power.

The Pharisee disciples ask the Herodians to ask Jesus a question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” Now the trap has been baited and they can sit back and let Jesus ensnare himself. If Jesus said “Yes” then the crowd would spoil against him since he would then be seen as no Messiah since he is supporting the occupation. If he says “No” there are Roman guards looking over the wall from the Antonia Fortress that would come an seize him should he set himself against the occupation. He is trapped.

Jesus turns to the Pharisee disciple and says, “Do you have a coin?” “Sure.” “Give it to me.” Flip.

Now, I would love to see this scene if it were in a movie. The disciple reaches in his pocket and pulls out a coin. He loads it on to his finger and thumb and flips it to Jesus. As it flies through the air turning over and over, it catches the sun, and at the peak of its flight, the camera zooms in to the visage that is on the coin face at pauses mid-flight.

As the coin slowly descends into Jesus’ grasp, the camera pans to Jesus, who begins to smile. The camera then pans back to the disciple who begins to contort as he realizes his mistake. “D’oh.” Remember, everyone is in the Temple at this point, and the only coins allowed in the Temple are the Temple shekels which do not have the idolatrous image of the semi-divine Caesar marring it. Jesus has won the argument before the coin even reaches him hand.

Jesus holds the coin up so that everyone one may see it. “Whose image is on this coin?” “Caesar’s.” “Therefore, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisee has just admitted to holding the people of God to a standard that he forgoes himself. He was not so abhorred by the presence of an idol within the walls of the Temple that he had to change it out. He was not willing to give his money to the exchange rate. He proved himself in one, seemingly innocuous act, to be the hypocrite Jesus accused him of being before this encounter unfolded, and showed that his motives were impure toward Jesus.

The moral of the story Beloved: when approaching God, be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

My Most Embarrassing Moment As a Priest

In the name of the F, S, and the HS. Amen.
Do you ever think about clothes? I don’t—not really. On a scale of 1 to 10, clothing rates about a two. Even my profession has made it easy on me by taking color coordination of the table as something I have to consider each morning. And when I get to Church, those clothes are prescribed as well. Life is good.

In fact, unless I am forced to think about what I am wearing, the normal process is this: Are the clothes clean? Yes: good, no: can they pass for clean? Yes: good, no: Well do they have obviously recent stains or smell really bad? Yes: pick new clean clothes, start process over. No: ask self question: Do I care about what the people I encounter will think if I smell a little? Yes: pick new clean clothes, start process over. No: dirty it is, proceed on, but grab ball cap and sunglasses to try to conceal identity just in case. Maybe I’m over sharing.
Normally, I do wear an undershirt, and this process is much more stream-lined: grab shirt off top of folded clothes, pay no attention to what it is because no one will see it. Some of the shirts in this category are well beyond their expiration date—a one shirt in particular—and this shirt was the cause of much embarrassment for me.

Last year about this time of year I believe, Fr. Cruz from St. Mary’s calls me during the week and says he would like to meet with me. We arrange a Sunday after Church (or so I thought), and he was supposed to come to me at the office. Well that Sunday, the undershirt in question made the cut. So I send Becca and the girls home and I wait on the good Father to stop by. I keep waiting and waiting, so I get comfortable, no collar, wait some more, no clericals—it is an informal meeting between friends and he is a priest, he’ll understand.
But then when he still doesn’t show, I decide that maybe he has forgotten and that I will just go over to his house. That is the beauty of Rectories. So I just walk out of the door—maybe I’m sleep deprived because I have had to skip the post-liturgy nap ritual—I forget that I am going out in public in a shirt not fit for public consumption.

When I pull up to St. Mary’s there are all these cars, and something hits in the back of my mind, but I attribute it to the lack of a nap and press forward. I notice that no one seems to be in Mass, so that means they must be in the Parish Hall. I will just pop in and find Fr. Cruz and tell him I’ll wait for him to finish and then we can meet.

As I walk up to the Parish Hall, I can hear the din of lots of people talking as I walk up to the door. Well this is going to be slightly embarrassing since I know my shirt is unfit, but I will just be in and out. When I walk in, it turns out that this is St. Mary’s Annual Action for the school, and it looks like everyone every associated with St. Mary’s is there. Awesome.

When I locate Fr. Cruz, he is so happy I am there, he starts introducing me around the room. And then, despite my protests, invites me to sit with him and watch the action. At least I am in the back.

Then, Fr. Cruz goes up to the front to give some remarks. During his remarks, he thanks me for showing up and has me stand up to be recognized.

Now let me describe this shirt. To say threadbare might be too generous a term. This is of course my church-goin’ shirt because it is the holeiest one I own. There are dozens of tine holes all around the collar. There is quite possibly a sizeable hole in one of the armpits, thankfully on my left arm. There is a noticeable coffee stain on the chest, faded by years of washing and bleaching, but still visible. Needless to say, I am mortified as I wave hello to all the fine people in their shirts and ties. Oh look, Mayor Goldsworthy, the Mayor is coming over to say hi—of course. “Yes, thank you for having me here tonight Mayor. It is a pleasure.”

At this point I thought of our parable this morning. The king had just come up to me and said “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” Luckily the good people of St. Mary’s were much more gracious that to throw me out, bound hand and foot, into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But it did give me a new perspective on the parable.

The guy who the king approaches looks like he just wondered in off the streets to a feast for the King’s son! Of course he did just wonder in off the streets, but all the other guests were fellow street dwellers, but they found the time to go home and put on clothes worthy of the occasion. They showed gratitude for their unexpected inclusion. This fellow showed at best indifference, but at worst, contempt for his inclusion at the King’s feast.

It was as if he was upset by the initial snub and he purposely decided not to honor his host by dressing the part. Sure he was going to show up—who wouldn’t—but he was not grateful. His attitude was closer to “Well it’s about time. I should have been sought out on the initial round of invitations. I’ll show him, I will come straight from the job I get today—it’s going to be a hot one today too. I’ll go in and make a bee-line toward the open bar and order drinks two at a time. I’ll just be loud and obnoxious—that’ll show him for not inviting me.”

“Friend, where is your wedding garment?” Uh oh, now the King is upset and the guy is bound and hurled from the party. Now I had a buddy that used to be a bouncer, and when he would bounce someone from his club, there was a set of stairs leading out that he and the rest of the bouncers would try, as you were actually tossed out, to short by one or two steps to ensure the unworthy patron would hit and literally bounce to the door. I can envision this happening to the unworthy guest at the King’s feast.

Thankfully none of that happened to me at St. Mary’s. I found my exit strategy and got out as soon as I could without further embarrassing myself by seeming ungrateful for being included. But should the invite ever come again (I’m not holding my breath), I will definitely pay more attention to the clothes I wear that day.

Now, Beloved, this brings me to the question for you today: What garments to you wear when you come to this most holy feast? Every Sunday, right after the consecration of the Bread and Wine, I break the host, and say, “Alleluia. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.” And you reply, “Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.” These words remind us that the sacrifice of the Mass is not just a time to worship a distant God, but it is a gathering at the heavenly feast, our inclusion in the marriage supper of the Lamb—a feast that we have no right to attend, but are invited nonetheless. And we are invited to sit at the table of the family, for that is what our ticket says because through our Baptism we are made sons and daughters.

So I ask again, what garments do you wear when you come to this feast?

Mine are gratitude and passion. Gratitude for being included at all, and passion to show that my inclusion was a God choice, as well as a fire to further the cause that more people can have the same opportunity as me.

Those are the garments I put on every week as I come here, what are yours?

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Seeing the Big Picture

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
On Thursday, I took Kate to Starbucks. I ordered a grande cup of coffee and a pumpkin cream cheese muffin for me and a chocolate chip cookie for Kate. We have a bit of time normally between when she gets out of school and when I pick up Ellie and Livie from daycare. We go and sit at the tall table closest to the drink refrigerator, she takes my phone and I pull out my Bible and my notepad. It’s time to think about what to say on Sunday.

Now I have been studying lately, trying to hone my craft, so I have taken to sketching out the scene in my notebook. So, as Kate’s show start the theme song: “My Friend, my Big, Big Friend. A Gooood Friend, My Big, Big Friend,” I begin to create in stick figures, the parable we have before us today.

I get all the way done with that and then sit back. “Ok, now what is the take home from this?”… (Looks down at paper) “Ok, now… what IS the take home? Ok, nothing is coming. Not to worry, these things happen.” Take out different color pen, doodle on paper while waiting for the lightning bolt to hit. … Open Bible, re-read parable. Close Bible. Stare at paper. … “Man this one is going to be really hard this week.”

Last week was easy, lots of narrative to cover. We had the blind men at Jericho; Jesus and the Triumphal Entry; Jesus getting upset and wrecking the money-changing stations in the Temple; and all of this leading up to a fairly short parable. But this week, we pick up right where we left off last week. “Well that’s not fair. Oh well, that is why they pay me the big bucks.”
Right then, my alarm goes off telling me that it is 4:30, time to go pick up the younger girls and go home to get dinner ready so Becca can see the kids while I cook. Then she is off to Musical practice by 6. “Ok, I will let this bounce around my brain for a bit and come back to it later.” SO, in the car, get the girls. “Hi love.” Open freezer, figure out what in the world is going to be dinner-worthy in a timely manner? Chicken, broccoli and rice “casserole”—didn’t turn out too bad either.

Ok, Becca is off and luckily she put down Livie upstairs for a nap before she left (she doesn’t sleep well downstairs), so I can put something on the TV for Ellie since Kate has her Kindle and has discovered the Munsters, then I can grab my notebook and figure this thing out before Livie wakes up, because it is really bugging me that it isn’t immediately coming to me.
Ok, let’s refresh my brain, but let’s have fun with it because the answer obviously didn’t present itself with the words on the page.

There was a man who owns a large estate. He has a plot of land that isn’t doing much, so he decides, “You know what, I’m going to set up a vineyard. It might be fun.” So he goes and talks his plant guy—because people with estates always have “guys”—who gets him the stuff he needs for a vineyard.

So he goes to work, plants the seeds, gives them something to grow on, and sets up an irrigation system. As the plants begin to grow, he notices that the local fauna are foraging on his young plants, so he buys a gun for when he is looking, and builds a fence for when he isn’t. Then as the plants get bigger he builds a tower so as to keep a watch over the whole operation.

When he finally gets grapes on the stem, and they get big enough to harvest, he goes through and picks some—Ugh, these things are disgusting. So he goes into town to figure out what he did wrong because what looks like a grape does not taste like a grape, not one he wants to eat anyway. In talking with his guy, he finds out all sorts of things he never thought about concerning grapes—like the fact that it takes roughly three years to get viable grapes. THREE YEARS?! “Well I want grapes now so I can start on learning how to make wine.” “I am just going to leave this to people who know what they are doing, lease the place out and move to the Bahamas. I can get my grapes and get money for people working the land.”

Three years later, the guy is sitting on a beach, well into Margaritaville, looking for his shaker of salt, when the alarm on his phone goes off: “Grapes ready, send someone to get them.” So he calls his people: “Get me my grapes and whatever money is due to me from the lease.” “I know I haven’t done anything with it in three years, but my phone tells me its time and they should have saved up.” “Bartender, do you know a good tattoo guy?”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the workers essentially have not heard from the land owner in three years and so they have squatters’ rights in their minds. Then one day, after a hard day’s work, there is a knock at the door. “Excuse me the landowner wants three years rent and the agreed upon portion of grapes.” “Get outta here. We haven’t heard from him in three years.” Then they punch this dirty suit in the nose and sent him on his way.

The next day, a different guy shows up demanding the landowner’s rent. This guy is a little bigger, so they say, “hang on, it around back, wait right here,” and as the guy is waiting, two others start pelting him with big rocks and put him in the hospital.

The third day, another guy shows up, all tattooed and muscley and he grabs the spokesman by the throat and demands the money. A scuffle breaks out and someone empties both barrels of a shotgun into his tattooed back.

Word gets back to the landowner. “Well, I will send my son. He represents me. He can negotiate with them on my behalf” “Son, tell them they can keep the rent, I just want my grapes.” When the son gets there, the workers want no part of this absentee landowner, nor his son, nor giving away anything at all. So they kill the son and throw him out, claiming the vineyard as their own. (End Parable)

Jesus asks someone in the crowd, “What would you do to these workers?” “Of course, send it the National Guard, take back the land, and if the little pukes happen to die in the re-acquisition on the vineyard—oh well.” Jesus then says, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of heaven will be taken away from you (pointing at the religious leaders) and given to a people producing fruits. And then the religious leaders finally were able to discern that Jesus was talking about them. (End Reflection on Passage)

Now the problem: with all of this is, after reading, and re-reading, and re-re-reading, I couldn’t figure out the problem of what the parable was talking about other than Jesus is going to die and the kingdom will be given over to his followers. Great, the good people at St. Paul’s are already there—check: follower of Jesus, inheritor of the kingdom end of line.
If only there were more here. I just need more text with which to work. Maybe I will read what comes next—more parables but we are touching on next week. Grrrrr. “Lord, what is it that you want me to say to your people?”

And then it hit me—my long expected lightning bolt—I wasn’t looking at enough of a sample size. Jesus didn’t just give this one parable in a vacuum. All the things in the story lead up to this parable and need to be taking into account as well. This was the same problem that the religious leaders were facing—they didn’t have a large enough sample size. They were missing the forest for the trees. They were upset at Jesus because all they saw was what was in front of them. What they were missing was witnessing all the history unfold before their eyes that lead up to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem Genesis to Matthew 21. Sure it was in the books, and they studied the books, but life looks different than books.
Beloved, how often is it that we are too close to the situation to see God at work? “God, why aren’t you doing something?” The religious leaders were expecting the Messiah sent from God to appear at the gates of Jerusalem right when Jesus showed up on his donkey. But they failed to grasp the entire situation because they were too close, and it didn’t look like they pictured it would.

Sometimes it is better to sit back, read the scripture to know what to look for, but then grab your cup of coffee and pray to God to open your eyes as it is unveiled today. That is what I was missing, that is what the religious leaders were missing, but that is what God is calling us to do. So put on the pot, find a comfy spot and pray for the lightning bolt. God has promised it will be there, now we just have to have eyes to see it.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen