Of Masks, Statues, and Jehoshaphat

JMJ

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

JMJ

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

JMJ

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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Fright or Fop?

JMJ

The Readings for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)

Qui benedixit nos in omni benedictione spirituali in caelestibus in Christo,

Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places 

It comes to me from time to time, walking up to communion, this ancient prayer of the English Martyrs. Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me (a) Jesus!  (…hoc est salvator, that is saviour…) The name of Jesus in Hebrew – the same as Joshua – means “savior”. Here, in Ephesians, is St Paul saying that in Jesus all blessings are given to us.

We’re usually confronted with a Jesus who is either a fright or a fop. We are often (usually by judgmental family members) introduced to a frightening Jesus who will send us to hell for stepping over the imagined lines of morality offered by the family members or their pastor. But we can also be offered a Jesus who seems more concerned with hair care and beard balms than with actual truth and morality. Neither of those sound like “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” so we rightly walk away. Who needs that?

Esto mihi Iesu.

We want – we need – the Jesus described by St Paul (and the other Apostles): Every spiritual blessing, God’s grace bestowed on us, the way God accomplished all things, the summing up of all Creation, everything recapitulated in him. That’s what we want. That’s what we need. Instead we get either ranty raving lunatic of a hellfire preacher, or else some tripped out hipster dude who couldn’t – literally would not be strong enough or able to – hurt anyone.  Trust me: this is the fault of … us, the Church. 

We most often only offer two modes and neither of them quite match this wonderful image of Jesus as the origin and goal of all that is or will ever be.

Esto mihi Iesu.

Let us try to abandon all things (as the Gospel suggests) – hat, staff, extra shoes, money, extra clothes – so that the Jesus we offer and teach to those around us will be the Jesus that is everything; the Jesus that is the one thing needful; the Jesus that is a Jesus.

At the end of the most dangerous action a Christian can make – the action of Communion – I find myself praying this in the pew repeatedly.

Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 

I have received not only a morsel of bread and a sip of win, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. This is the meal that consumes us: either to our damnation or to our divination. We are either condemned by the action we take in consuming this food, or else we are elevated beyond the realms of mortality into the Godhead.

For this last to happen, Jesus must be neither hippie nor hothead, but rather truly himself: God the Son of God, the divinely appointed judge of all the world, and the son of Mary, the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low. Jesus must be the God of dirty diapers and bloody nails; the God of friends and of failures. Jesus must be nothing less than the creator of all things killed as a common criminal.

Esto mihi Iesu.

Ultimately, if Jesus is Jesus, then we die. We are crucified with Christ. The life we live in the flesh is the life of Christ – no longer our own, for we are bought with a price too dear for us to pay. He feeds us himself, so we become him, and then we die like the martyrs at Tyburn who wrote this prayer we say. 

Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 
Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 
Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu! 




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