What Did We Do?


The Readings for the 15th Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Our Lady of Mt Carmel

On that day a satire shall be sung over you.

Micah 2:4a

AT THE END OF the wonderful Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Mr Wonka reads the riot act to Charlie and his Grandfather. “All offers shall become null and void”. Grandpa says, “We’ve not broken any rules” and Wonka screams out “WRONG!” It’s all there in black and white, clear as crystal. In today’s passage from Micah, the prophet makes it clear as crystal that when things go bad (as they are about to do) it’s Israel’s own fault. In fact, to read the Old Testament from the get-go, when things go bad, it’s your own fault.

Today’s reading is another place where the lectionary is actually different from the text they link to. Not sure what’s going on here. I confess I was kind of excited about “a satire shall be sung” because singing satires a part of the Irish Bardic tradition. (And also part of modern politics that I greatly enjoy.) Other translations, though, make the point a bit more literally (“make a proverb of you”, “mock you”, etc). Imagine, “Yeah, the South was like Israel after God got done with ’em.” But it was all Israel’s fault: not God’s. It’s what you might call natural consequences. There actually is a plan for the universe. When you step outside of that plan things fall apart. God needn’t do anything to “punish” you: it just happens. God opens a way through the sea for his beloved, and you chase after his beloved… you drown. Quid pro quo. He didn’t open that pathway for you. If you are God’s beloved (Israel) and you act like any other pagan nation, then you get the same reaction: “you shall have no one to mark out boundaries by lot in the assembly of the LORD.” You erased the boundaries the Lord set so you don’t need them… and they go away and stay away.

Parents do this: you want to go out until 4 PM the next day? OK… but you still need to do your chores, so get up. Is that punishment or natural consequences? You go to work hung over and you can’t do your job so you lose it. Punishment or the natural consequence of not being able to do the job?

I think of this a lot right now. People “sing a satire” at the Church. Are we like the innocent martyrs of the 1st few centuries, or is there something else going on? I think the Church seems more like Charlie at the end of the Chocolate Factory. There’s actually a lot that has gone on. I’m not talking about the politically correct things that people complain about – specific doctrines being out of step with modern times or actions taken 1000 years ago by people in a different culture (also out of step with modern times). Things like abortion and sex are the excuses that people give for disliking the Church, sure, but is it possible that the boundaries are not there because we erased them in other ways? Can we honestly look at our history even in the last 50 years or so and say there’s nothing that might provoke “natural consequences”?

Again, this has nothing to do with what they say about us. This has nothing to do with what they claim to want to change about the Church. It’s uncomfortable. But is it possible there is something to repent of, something to love us through that might make the Church better, more-healed and more-healing in the long run?

A Psalm on this topic.

The Liberal One.


The Readings for the 15th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Saint Bonaventure, Bishop, Confessor & Doctor of the Church

I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.

Matthew 12:6

NASTY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE in today’s Gospel are trying to make the Disciples follow their mean nasty rules. Americans – and the west in general – don’t like rules. So we read this passage in our favor and along comes the Liberal Jesus to tear up all their rules and say, “Begone! You have no power here!” And we’re thankful for that, right? It’s a good fund raiser and you may hear it from a few pulpits today.

In his Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI takes issue with those who would imagine the Good Jesus of the West as fighting against the Old Religious Baddies. In the context provided by the whole chapter, instead of tiny little snippets, the Pope Emeritus shows that Jesus is not being liberal here, at all. He’s being God. (I had posted a paper about this passage a while ago, along with a follow-up on the image of a yoke.)

Today, what can we learn about the Apostles in this passage? What can we draw into our own life?

The Apostles are doing what any poor person is allowed to do: walk through a field and pull the grains off the stalks, rubbing them together in hand to get the chaff off before chewing the grains. To do this on the Sabbath, though, is not allowed. Jesus then has some back and forth with the religious leaders. Yet it was his comment on the Temple that spun my brain out into lectio land.

What is the Temple? Well, yes, the house of God. But it is the meeting-place of heaven and earth. It is a new Eden in typology: surrounding the fiery presence of God (that is, the Tree of Life) there are sculptures and woven curtains depicting cherubim, plants, and animals. All of the Temple liturgy represented bringing all of Creation before God for a continual act of renewal, even the individual offering were intended to sanctify daily life, bringing all things in Israel within the Divine Sphere.

But wait, there’s more.

As the Holy of Holies was the center of the Temple, and as the Temple was the center of Israel, so also was Israel the center of the world. Israel was not only “being holy”, if you will, but also modeling holiness to the world. Israel’s mission was to be a holy people set apart for the Lord of Hosts for the purpose, as God promises Abraham, of being a blessing to all nations.

When Jesus says he is more important than the Temple, this is his claim. He is mindful of all of this. As the God-Man he is the place where heaven and earth meet. In his person all of creation is continually presented to God the Father in a continual act of renewal and thanksgiving. In his person blessings are showered down on Israel and the world.

But wait: there’s more.

In John 2:21, we hear of the “temple of his (Jesus’) body”. Paul says that we are “members of his body” (Ephesians 5:30). Then, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, we are reminded that our bodies are the temple as well. What is true of Jesus in his person is intended to be true of us in his grace.

This is, certainly, something Greater Than the Temple. And it’s not at all related to Jesus throwing dishwater on the nasty religious laws.

Like Jimmy Carter said…


The Readings for the 15th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

Your name and your title are the desire of our souls.

Isaiah 26:8

NOT REALLY SURE What the lectionary crafters are doing here. The translation “your name and your title” is an odd turn of phrase. It’s not even in the actual NABRE where Isaiah 26:8 is rendered as “name and memory”. It’s not in the Hebrew or the Greek or the Latin. Most English translations seem to follow suit.

You’d think that the translation choice is the interesting part, right? But no: not really at all.

“Desire of our souls” is, to me, the best part. The word rendered as “desire” can, in Hebrew, also indicate lust. Certainly no moral judgement, but that’s how strong “desire” is here. That is the desire that Isaiah speaks of. “We’re enacting your laws, God. Keeping sabbath, feeding the poor, etc. But we lust after your name and your presence, your memory and your honor. No really. We’re serious.”

As you do the work of God in your life, can you say your heart lusts after God’s glory? If not why not? What do you lust after more than God’s glory?

Just going to leave that there.

ABBAbandonment Issues


The Readings for the 15th Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Henry, King

No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Matthew 11:27b

TO WHOM DO YOU PRAY? I’ve been wrestling with this a lot lately. So much Christian prayer is addressed just to “God” or “Lord” that no deeper thought needs to be added. In the Byzantine/Orthodox tradition, a lot of prayer is directed to “Christ, Our God”. There are also a lot of prayers directed to the Holy Trinity. In both East and West there is a devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. (This is also active in the Protestant Tradition.) For East and West, though, the Liturgy/the Mass is directed to God the Father. And I’ve been wondering what I do with the rest of my prayers.

Of course, the Our Father is directed to God the Father.

But generally, when not reaching out to Jesus or the Saints, I think I find myself praying to the more nebulous “God” or “Lord”. These are respectable titles, of course, but they are only titles. Jesus and Saint Paul urges us to pray to the Father. The Pauline formula urging us to cry “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). Although Abba is “Daddy” in Hebrew, in Aramaic it is the more-formal “Father“. So, which one was Paul thinking in when he wrote the Greek? I don’t know. The name isn’t the issue for me, though. It’s the relationship.

I have never known my natural father, Arnold Bailey. In as much of the family story as I know, he departed before my younger brother was born when I was less than 1 year old. Although my Mom’s father, Kenny, stepped in and Mom remarried later to my Stepfather, it’s been the absence of my “birth father” that’s always been present, if that makes sense; the presence of absence. My Stepfather is amazing. My late Grandfather was wonderful. Some theories regarding healthy families and child formation suggest that a baby boy needs to bond with his father before the age of 2 in order to have a healthy understanding of male relationships. While this speaks to the importance of a stable family, it also leaves me talking to my therapist about why I have no mental conception of “Father” at all. And thus, I theorize, why I’ve no mental conception of God the Father beyond theological abstraction.

This first started percolating in my brain as a result of a comment made by the professor in our Christology Class. She had said that we are to be sons (of God) in (God) the Son, resting in him and participating in his contemplation of the Father. This is really just an extension of the Mass in which we participate in the Son’s worship of the Father. (In this sense, contemplation and worship are the same things really, mostly overlapping like a Venn diagram.)

How, I wondered, am I resting in the Son and contemplating the Father? And even in my confusion, I was assured that it was right and this is where we are as Christians. So much so that I understood instantly: like John rests in the bosom of the Messiah at the Last Supper, so we too are resting. Jesus calls us friends and CS Lewis says friends do not gaze at each other, but rather stand side by side, gazing at the same thing. So we rest in the bosom of the Son – like John the beloved – gazing at the same thing in the same direction as the Son, that is towards the Father.

This is what Jesus means by “anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal” the Father: it is us. He has called us to himself exactly for this purpose. This is why the Church as Mother struggles with her children: she has fewer and fewer men as Fathers. We live in a culture filled with “Daddy Issues”. At base our issues around sexuality and gender are exactly this, but also our issues with authority, abuse, and power: these are all best addressed in terms of our relationship with God the Father who, alone, can heal them.

Resting in the Son, sharing our one human nature with him, we share also in the eternal dance of the Trinity. We gaze upon the Father in love and awe. We join in the aspiration of the Holy Spirit. We die to self and to false conceptions of self (for we still have sin) yet we are raised to walk in Newness of Life. We hold open our hands to pour out this love on all who come to us in the world.

So it is revealed that Who I Pray To, even though too abstract and risky for me to name, has been waiting for my weakness to call out, bearing with me in his love, and only too wonderfully happy to welcome me (again) when I came to myself and ran to him.

As St Francis (along with so many others) said, “Henceforth, I will have God as my Father.” And so the thing I thought I didn’t have… by virtue of my relationship in Jesus… I had all along.

Turn, turn, turn, will be our death.


The Readings for the 15th Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.

Matthew 11:21

WHOA, there! Jesus is being rather a downer, ne c’est pas? Things surely are not that bad, that rejecting you makes us worse than Sodom? As I noted last week, actually yes.

The punch lines comes in the readings tomorrow – in the way that the Lectionary has of breaking the Gospel into bits too small for much content. But I’m ok with moving slow – this passage wasn’t in the pre-Vatican II lectionary. So, it’s a better thing to get it at all!

But Jesus is on a bit of a tear here. WHat have these cities done that makes them worse the Sodom?

They rejected Jesus.

And it’s possible that it’s hard to think of cities rejecting religion. We’re so used to thinking of religion as a personal thing that imagining a whole city guilty of rejecting the Gospel is impossible in our culture. Yet we see it all the time: whole swathes of people reject things. You can’t say many people in my city of San Francisco would have welcomed the most recent former President had he shown up here. It’s possible, then, to imagine a group of the same individuals coming – collectively – to individual choices which result in the whole city rejecting Jesus.

But if that’s how it is for the cities… how is it for the individuals? Cities can’t be sent to hell, although they can be destroyed. How will it be for the individuals who make the choices, one by one?

What are the choices we make to accept or reject the great things done in our midst?

It’s easy to run after teachers – clergy or theologians – who say what we want to hear. How do we know we’re hearing the truth if all we hear makes us feel comfortable? That’s a bad analogy because the same thing can be said of liberals and conservatives, of right and left. We all go running after teachers who say what we want to hear – even if it’s very hard to hear. And being made uncomfortable is not the only proof of the Gospel. (Paul says making someone stumble in their walk to God is proof of not-Gospel.)

Today’s reading from Isaiah has the key, I think. Of all the enemies, the Kingdom of Judah had, in today’s reading the worst is coming: their own brothers in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. You cannot have a kin-slaying and think God’s going to be happy.

God sends the Prophet Isaiah out to the King of Judah. God says to be courageous. And he closes “Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm.”

Giving in to the taunts of the world around us does not make us successful in the world or at-peace with the world. The world has no faith at all – not even in itself. The world does not believe in truth and every policy, decision, action, and choice is built only on shifting sand. What holds true today will not be true tomorrow in the world. And woe to the man who holds on to “today’s truth” once tomorrow gets here: he will be called a hater for not keeping up. If you think I’m making this up, even 15 years ago “trans” wasn’t a thing on the gay radar. 30 years ago, I can tell you a trans rights activist was booed off the stage in NYC because of the need to “keep the issue focused”. Same-sex marriage was invented whole cloth in 2008 or so. No one even thought of it before because it was “aping” heterosexuals and who wanted to do that? The agenda changed though – overnight – and it will change again. The same is true of nearly all worldly cultural issues. What gets canceled today is the glorious revolution of tomorrow.

Unless you have a firm faith you will not be firm.

Again, the punchline is in the next set of readings so I will stop there. That’s the answer but not the application.

Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.


The Readings for the 15th Monday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Benedict, Abbot

“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

Matthew 10:40

THIS WHOLE PASSAGE can seem strange. Swords, dysfunctional family fighting, etc. Ranks up there with the cut off your hands and gouge out your eye part. The other day on the Clerically Speaking podcast, Episode 178, Producer Nick (who is, suspiciously, a lay person) said he wanted to hear prachers address the strange parts of Scripture. But, I suspect, we can only do that if we’re rather fundamentalist about the whole thing. The statement about swords in verse 34 could be taken in a vacuum, but that’s not how Jesus said it or how Matthew recorded it. The NABRE parses this out into 3 different sections but there’s no reason to do that at all. Verse 34 is explained over the next 9 or 10 verses, in verse 40 it reaches its apotheosis (pun intended).

The Holy Trinity dwells in our Hearts. This is the gift of Baptism, yes, but also God is our beingness. His is the action that makes our being be. We are not part of God (in that Eastern Wooji-Wooji kinda way) but rather God is the Creator and Sustainer of us in each and every moment and action of our lives. Without Baptism we live disconnected from this reality. Through Baptism that connection is restored, turned on, if you will, although we can continue to ignore it. By way of analogy, before Baptism, the radio in the car was broken. Baptism turns on the Radio. After Baptism, while it is possible to turn the volume way down, the radio keeps playing. (I hate when my parents do this on long drives!)

Jesus runs down a list of things we might use to turn the volume down. We’ll go through it 3 times: family (v37), worldly obligations (v38), and even making up our own identity in our pride (v39). To tune into Jesus, we have to drop out, giving up our ideas about what we owe to others (v37), about what we owe to the state (v38) as it was the state that gave the Cross to Jesus, and what we owe to ourselves (v39).

Turn the radio back up. Jesus is to be our source (v37), our life (v38), and and our end (v39).

Eventually, we can say with Brother Laurence, “The time of business, said he, does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.” And again, “Sometimes I consider myself there, as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue: presenting myself thus before GOD, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul, and render me entirely like Himself.”

And then it will truly be as Jesus promised, “whoever receives you, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.”

When we mediate the presence of Christ in an active, living way to those around us, when we turn the radio up and blast it, those around us experience Christ himself in our fellowship. They, too, are drawn to tune in to the same station on their radio.

Very Near Indeed

Image excerpted from “Hillel and Shammai
From The Czernowitz Haggadah series, Oil on canvas, by Alexander Vaisman


The Readings for the 15th Sunday, Tempus per Annum

Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

Luke 10:26

LET’S FIRST LOOK at Moses, speaking in Deuteronomy. Our NABRE translation uses the pronoun “it” in verse 14: No, it is something very near to you. However, the Hebrew says, “The word is very near you.” It uses the Hebrew Word Devar which can mean a spoken word, an action, a teaching, a command, a reason. It makes sense that in Greek it’s often rendered as Logos. Moses insists the Word is very near. It’s in the hearts of the people of Israel and they need only do it.

The Word (Devar) must mean something other than the Covenant itself. The Word is not about laws, about do’s and don’t’s. Devar is something in the heart.

There’s another implication as the Bible unfolds. In Hebrew translations of the New Testament, Devar is the word used in the 1st chapter of John’s Gospel.

הַדָּבָר לָבַשׁ בָּשָׂר

Hadabar lavash basar, the word became flesh (literally “meat”). The Devar is very near to us all. And as the Devar is the second person in the Trinity, he dwells, together with the Father and the Spirit, within our very beingness, within our heart, as Moses said. We need to bring ourselves into relationship with God within our lives.

Jesus the Devar in the Flesh, makes the same point in the Gospel: Jesus asks “What is written in the Law?” But the conversation moves to what is written in the young man’s heart.

Jesus is not stepping outside of the bounds of Judaism here. During the period called “Second Temple Judaism” (generally circa 4th Century BC – 2nd Century AD) there were a number of different schools of thought within the Jewish Community. These went across the spectrum from what we might think of as “liberal” (in that they denied some of what we might consider important Jewish tenants) to what we might think of as “conservative” in that they look more like what we see as traditional Judaism today. Curiously, in their own time, the labels (if they had ever used such – which they did not) would have been reversed. Judaism was a wide spectrum of traditions and practices, some with more or less respect for the temple, some with more or less respect for the religious hierarchy, and some with more or less literal understanding of the law. Two of these schools of thought were “House of Hillel” and the “House of Shammai”. Among the questions on which they disagreed was the question of “the greatest commandments”. They both agreed that Loving God with heart, soul, and strength was the first commandment. Shammai said the second commandment was to observe the Sabbath. Hillel, however, said the second was to love your neighbor. Hillel won within Judaism’s discussion of this and – in today’s Gospel – Jesus (along with his interlocutor) is clearly siding with Hillel. (He sides with Shammai in other places though…)

The Samaritan is not a Jew, he’s usually the “bad guy” in Jewish Stories. But he knows enough (in his heart) to do the righteousness required by the law even though he is outside the covenant. He has the Devar written on his heart so he can bring it into place in his life.

Both testaments are telling the same story, moving us to the same place: the Word of God must be written in our hearts to have any effect.

Of Masks, Statues, and Jehoshaphat


FRIDAY IN THE 15th WEEK, Tempus per Annum, the readings in the Daily Office all conspire as if someone had set up it on purpose. In the Office of Readings, David and the story of Jehoshaphat, in Morning Prayer, David again, Jeremiah and St Paul all come together in one great story.

In the Office of Readings we say Psalm 69, split into 3 parts. The says that he feels betrayed by his friends and all those around him. He prays to never be a cause of shame to those who love the Lord. But then he says that even in his poverty and pain he will bless the Lord.

I will praise God’s name with a song;
I will glorify him with thanksgiving,
a gift pleasing God more than oxen,
more than beasts prepared for sacrifice.
The poor when they see it will be glad
and God-seeking hearts will revive;
for the Lord listens to the needy
and does not spurn his servants in their chains.
Let the heavens and the earth give him praise,
the sea and all its living creatures.

In this praise, the writer knows

For God will bring help to Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah
and men shall dwell there in possession.
The sons of his servants shall inherit it;
those who love his name shall dwell there.

Then comes the reading about King Jehoshaphat. A whole bunch of Gentiles – from several nations – came together to slay the people of Judah. The King was very afraid, called a day of fasting and prayer and sought help from God. The whole nation gathered in Jerusalem at the Temple and prayed. And God spoke through the mouth of one of the men of the Tribe of Levi saying:

Do not fear or lose heart at the sight of this vast multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Go down against them tomorrow. You will see them coming up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will come upon them at the end of the wadi which opens on the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not have to fight in this encounter. Take your places, stand firm, and see how the Lord will be with you to deliver you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not fear or lose heart. Tomorrow go out to meet them, and the Lord will be with you.

So Jehoshaphat organizes the Army and, instead of spears or chariots, he put singers in front. They sang: “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” The second half of that verse, כִּ֥י לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּֽוֹ ke l’olam khasdo, is the refrain to many of the Psalms, especially Psalm 136 where it is repeated in each verse, celebrating God’s victories on behalf of Israel. I would like to imagine it was this Psalm the singers were chanting as they went. No sooner did they start to sing – no doubt the song echoing off the mountainsides – than the army of the enemy was put to confusion and began killing each other! This is like the three Trolls in The Hobbit, great terrors easily made silly by their own greed and some crafty voices.

When Judah arrives on the scene, the only thing left is to step over the bodies and get their loot. Judah was three days gathering the spoils from the army that they conquered by singing.

Today (the 17th as I write) is also the feast of the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne: 16 Carmelite nuns executed by French revolutionaries on this day in 1794, for refusing to accept state control over the Catholic Church. They were beheading singing the Te Deum.

In today’s Morning Prayer, after confessing our sins with Psalm 51, we sing this mournful Canticle from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Let my eyes stream with tears
day and night, without rest,
over the great destruction which overwhelms
the virgin daughter of my people,
over her incurable wound.

If I walk out into the field,
look! those slain by the sword;
if I enter the city,
look! those consumed by hunger.
Even the prophet and the priest
forage in a land they know not.

Have you cast Judah off completely?
Is Zion loathsome to you?
Why have you struck us a blow
that cannot be healed?

We wait for peace, to no avail;
for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.
We recognize, O Lord, our wickedness,
the guilt of our fathers;
that we have sinned against you.

For your name’s sake spurn us not,
disgrace not the throne of your glory;
remember your covenant with us, and break it not.

While this comes up every four weeks or so, I remember singing it last year in the smokes of wild fires and weeping as I felt like precious things were passing away. This time, it stirred up memories of violent mobs and parties that cannot be repeated, of being at Church with a rejoicing throng or even going to the Rosary Rally last year or my Birthday Party in Dolores Park. These things will not be again this Summer. What will happen? I had forgotten all about Jehoshaphat, from only a few pages ago. So St Paul had to remind me.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

II Corinthians 12:7-10 (AV)

And so were tied together Jehoshaphat, Jeremiah, David, the Carmelites, and St Paul: it is when we are weak that God is strongest. Always he is saying to us, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

My Mom’s friends worship with a Baptist community where the preacher keeps a gun with him in the pulpit. He has done so since the first Obama administration and that says something. But his attitude is spreading. Recently I heard of a priest inviting men of his parish to get ready to defend the place in case of attack. It struck me then that something was off, that we are missing an opportunity to evangelize here. Friday morning’s office underscored this to me. God never once asked all the Christian to Man-UpTM in case the Romans would arrive. No. In fact, the Christians then tended to look like the Carmelites in Paris:

And yet we chafe at masks and mourn our statues. God’s strength will be seen in our weakness. In fear, though, we arm ourselves.

When we should be singing.

Actually He Did Say That


The Readings for the 15th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C1):

Si tamen audieris vocem Domini Dei tui, et custodieris praecepta ejus et caeremonias, quae in hac lege conscripta sunt.
If thou hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and keep his precepts and ceremonies, which are written in this law.

If you follow social media at all occasionally a hashtag or meme will show up that is, shall we say, theologically annoying. It’s not only that it’s wrong or heretical, but usually, it’s so wrong or so very heretical as to indicate either a willful lack of knowledge on the part of those who originated it, or a downright hateful attack. Many things on social media can devolve into hateful attacks, so we needn’t get paranoid about it. This is partly the nature of the beast. It happens. On the other hand, hate also happens. This can be intentional so we must be careful to react with love.

This past week on social media there was such an event. I noticed it on Saturday but apparently it has been going on since Thursday or Friday. It was #ThingsJesusNeverSaid

When you put it like that nearly anything becomes a theological claim. We don’t think of it that way in our secular society but for Christians Jesus Is God. Making a claim about Jesus is making a theological claim. 

I’m not sure how this hashtag started but it quickly devolved into an odd combination of ahistorical, left-wing political thought and oddly heretical claims about the Divinity of Jesus. 

Jesus never said anything about Islam. (Islam came 600 years after Jesus.) Jesus never said anything about gay sex (actually he did when talking about adultery and lust – unless you want to be more literalist than even the worst Bible thumper). Jesus never said anything about gay marriage. Jesus never said anything about abortion. 

I’m not sure why these are interesting claims. They are not novel. Ever read any Jesus Seminar stuff? They seem to think Jesus never said anything. 

The hashtags seem to validate certain political points of view, and so they make people happy. Naturally, the other side had to respond and suddenly Jesus never said anything about gun control. Jesus never said anything about illegal immigrants. Jesus never said anything about… And again the whole point was to make certain political points of view seem pious.

People who claim to be Christians got involved. And they started throwing around the hashtag as well, validating their own political points of view and arguing with people who disagreed with their political points of view. So Jesus was a Libertarian, Jesus was a communist, Jesus was a pro-choice Democrat, Jesus wasn’t a communist, Jesus wasn’t a Libertarian, Jesus was a MAGA Republican, etc, etc, etc. 

What made this whole interesting, and what ties it into all of our readings today, was a subset of tweets and social postings around Jesus and the moral law of the Old Testament. 

For Christians, every action of God is a Trinitarian action. (The icons in this post show Jesus doing all the acts of Creation. Jesus is there from the beginning.)

Jesus, God the Son is the Word of God the Father. I don’t mean that Jesus is the Bible but rather when God speaks any word he says is Jesus. Any time you hear the voice of God speaking in the scriptures it’s Jesus. As a historical claim and a theological claim, this is rejected by any who are not Christians, but since Christians were playing this hashtag game we need to discuss it. The converse is also true: anyone who rejects this claim is not Christian.

In Deuteronomy, Moses refers to hearing the voice of God in the law. That voice, that Word of God, is the Logos, the Second person of the Trinity. Yes, it is the Father that is speaking, but the voice, the Word spoken, is the Logos. The breath, if you will, by which the Logos is heard and transmitted to you is the Holy Spirit. Every action of God is a Trinitarian Action. It cannot be otherwise. Even breaking it up as here into bite-sized bits is to nearly destroy the Trinitarian concept.

To put a very clear theological point on it: everything in the Law of the Torah was spoken by Jesus. A Christian cannot claim that Jesus did not say anything about XYZ in the Law without saying that part of the Bible was not spoken by God. 

So the basic claims of #ThingsJesusNeverSaid (Left, Right, Center) are both Arian and Marcionite at least and, sometimes, marching right on into Gnostic. Arius denied that Jesus was God. Marcion denied that the angry, judgy god of the Old Testament was the same as the fluffy, loving god of the New Testament. Gnostics deny that physical reality (like sex) is of any import to God at all and teach that it should be of no importance to us either. 

For Christians, this text of Moses is a very clear statement of the reality of the Sacramental World. It…

is not too mysterious and remote for you.It is not up in the sky, that you should say,‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for usand tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,‘Who will cross the sea to get it for usand tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’No, it is something very near to you,already in your mouths and in your hearts;

The NABRE says “it is something”, but the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin all say “The word is”… breath deep: Jesus. As near to you as the Spirit dwelling inside, as the Communion you’ve just consumed, as the person sitting next to you, as the Church into which you’re baptized. The word is very near.

Quoting what we think is a Hymn sung in the Church from the very earliest days (within 30-40 years of Jesus’ Ascension), St Paul boldly ups the Ante:

Quoniam in ipso condita sunt universa in caelis, et in terra, visibilia, et invisibilia, sive throni, sive dominationes, sive principatus, sive potestates: omnia per ipsum et in ipso creata sunt: et ipse est ante omnes, et omnia in ipso constant.

For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

All things are created by Jesus, for Jesus, through Jesus. The universe rises and is sustained in Jesus.

This claim certainly bothers folks. But to back away from it is to back away from historic Christianity. as I said this claim has been going since within 35 years of Jesus death. You can reject it by rejecting the entirety of the Christian faith. I know some people do that. They do it and they even claim to be Christians, but they’re telling lies about themselves and about Jesus.

It is from this all-inclusive claim the Christians follow the teachings of Jesus that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. For, if God is all self-giving, what the Greek calls kenosis, then we are to pour ourselves out in the same way, in the same kenotic way. Our neighbor is as our self. Not another self, but as our very self: human unity is a reflection of the Divine Unity. We all share the same nature even though we are individual persons. To love our neighbor is to love Jesus. Jesus was also a human person, sharing in our one human nature, the same nature you and I share the same nature our neighbor shares with us and with God in human flesh. This is why we are to follow the commands of Jesus for what it means to be humans. Regardless of what national laws, racism, or even possibly-valid economic concerns might say, we are to welcome the strangers and do everything possible to feed and clothe them. We cannot participate in a culture that would prevent us from doing so, be the stranger in the womb, on the street, or at the border.

This is the Christian’s unique anthropological claim. We are persons: but we are not singularities. We are not self-creating, we are all proceeding from the one act of Creation. We only have what we have received in that procession and we are commanded to pour it out fully, not to be emptied, but to participate in that procession, in that continual flow of the Divine Act.

That one act of Creation was, is, and can only ever be, Jesus.

To say #JesusNeverSaid is to project our post-modern, American, atomized, individualized, self-idolizing culture onto the only source of all unity, peace, justice, and hope. To use that to rationalize and justify your politics or sex life is just to prove you’ve never yet met Jesus. It’s time you did.

Jesus said, “Love.” 

That’s everything.

The Subversion of Might


The Readings for Monday in the 15th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Non veni pacem mittere, sed gladium.
I came not to send peace, but the sword. 

How very strange this sounds to our ears, who are so used to thinking of Jesus as some sort of Zen Anarchist Hippie. We want to apologize for bad translations. However, to someone expecting Messiah to overturn the Roman Occupation of Israel, this must have sounded rather logical, even so obvious as to be platitude. Jesus had other things in mind though.

We always want Jesus to fit into our political molds – we can be Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Communist, we can be right wing or left wing, we can even be an anarchist.  If you’re an American Voter or political activist, I’m willing to bet you, dear reader, or someone close to you can make an argument that Jesus supports your choices. Or, if you’re not used to thinking in Christian terms, from what you know about this ancient carpenter/philosopher, dead now 2,000 years, I bet you can come up with the arguments yourself. I’ve heard/read arguments that imagine Jesus speaking for and against abortion, for and against same-sex unions, for and against divorce, for and against “the oldest profession”. I’ve heard arguments that Jesus would have been for or against various immigration policies, for or against medical pot, for or against nuclear arms. If you’re old enough you’ve heard arguments that Jesus would be for or against Nazis, as well as slavery, inter-racial marriage, and segregation. 

We are so certain of Jesus’ political choices that many anti-Christian arguments begin from an assumption of doctrine and say “you can’t support that, you’re a Christian”. This is as painful for me to hear when it’s coming from someone I support as when it’s coming from someone I feel is wrong. Sure, Jesus says Love Everyone, but his teaching about what love means is far more complex than your political slogan writing skills. He also asserted, in the middle of the Pax Romana, that he came not to bring peace but a sword.

Jesus says he’s here to divide parents from children, to cut whole households down the middle. One’s own family will be one’s worst enemies. For Jesus even his closest friends betrayed him.  Yet we’re supposed to walk bravely forward into this gauntlet as Jesus, finally, walked bravely forward to his death, carrying his own cross. This last is so very important, because it gives the lie to political choice: in the face of what was clearly trumped up charges, cronyism, political poison, abusive clericalism, and friendly betrayal God himself said, “OK, bring it.”

And told us to do the same.

Carrying the cross is the one aspect we are all told to replicate. Jesus didn’t say, “Go get scourged like me” or “have all your friends run away”. He said if you don’t carry your cross, though, then you’re not following me. Far from fighting for reform or any sense of political justice, if you’re not taking up and celebrating the very method of torture that the secular world assigns to you then you’re not following Jesus. Jesus’ sword cuts us off from the world, but not to our detriment. It makes the very means of the world into steps of grace for us. Jesus takes the Roman method of capital punishment – used only on slaves and non-Romans – and subverts it into a pathway to life.

Paul will continue this subversion: taking cultures where they are and tuning them to Christ by using their very institutions against them. He will take Roman pagan marriage and urge Christians to adhere to the institution, but change the content. He’ll do the same for slavery and for childcare and seniorcare. Paul’s spiritual children will undermine even the Roman Army with these methods. This subversion will be so complete that, in the end, Anti-Christian historians will rightly blame Christians for emasculating the Roman Ideas of virtue so fully that it resulted in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  The author, Edward Gibbons, whose image heads up this post, said of us, “It is always easy, as well as agreeable, for the the inferior ranks of mankind to claim a merit from the contempt of that pomp and pleasure, which fortune has placed beyond their reach.” This is right as far as it goes, as certainly and rightly as Friedrich Nietzsche will blame us for practicing as “slave’s religion”. 

We see it differently, however. When Jesus says he will divide us off from even our families and spouses, he means that because we no longer will see anything in the same way as the world ever again we’re pretty much as good as enemies to everyone in the world – even our nearest and dearest. 

In a world gone totally and utterly mad, it is only the sane who are considered abnormal.


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